Movies are an important part of culture. They tell the stories that make us laugh, cry, and scream. Movies are the modern-day equivalent to the stories primitive people shared around campfires. They take us to other worlds and help us to escape the insanity of real life.
Along with mindless entertainment, movies examine society. Whether it is about war, civil rights, or equal opportunity, cinema has always been there to hold a mirror up to society. Much like certain stories are to make us laugh, these stories are made to inspire.
Still, no matter how morally right the message may be, that does not mean you need to hear it ad nauseam. Think of the friend who has the same moral compass as you. This does not mean you want to hear them talk about the how evil the world is every time you go to lunch. Movie after movie in 2018 was like the coworker who’s political beliefs amount to repeating Facebook posts; they were very passionate, had no understanding of what they were talking about, and did not vote.
Worst of all, there was no way to know which movies these messages would be forced in to. From horror to comedy, it seemed like it was impossible to escape the ugly truths of the real world.
The Purge franchise started as a home invasion movie. It has since evolved into a increasingly “woke” series. Class divide and race have been more of a focus with each entry, culminating in this year’s prequel The First Purge. The movies would be fine albeit tedious escapes if they stuck to their formula of everything being legal for one night. The First Purge proves the series does not have an interesting enough premise to extend into anything resembling serious social commentary. They are made to provoke questions, but not the type that require deep thought or discussion.
Even movies that were meant to look at modern society were ineffectual. Based on the young adult novel of the same name, The Hate U Give is targeted at a younger demographic and it shows. Clumsily putting up 2Pac as some sort of ghetto prophet is the most glaring and simultaneously least important of the movie’s problems. Part coming of age story, part inspiration tale, THUG is clear in the message it wants to deliver. And make no mistake about it: it is an important one that needs to be heard.
The problem with The Hate U Give is even through the problems it addresses are real, the plot itself somehow manages to come off as contrived and boring. The movie has an odd dichotomy of having a focused messaged made moot by a scatterbrained story. It is sad that such an important theme is essentially made purposeless due to the poor way it is delivered.
The worst offender by far was Assassination Nation. The film is about four girls being demonized and hunted by the citizens in a town named Salem. (Spoiler alert: the film is not subtle.) The movie deals with ageism, sexism, homophobia, cyberbullying, social media, the media’s influence on perception, underage sex, and more. Basically, every debatable topic in the history of mankind ever. Instead of being a frantic action movie with a socially conscious message, the film was a jumbled mess of outdated internet slang and over the top moments. The audience is never allowed to think about what they just saw before the movie moves on to the next issue it wants to address.
If those were the only movies with poor delivery of important messages, then it probably would not have been noticed. Unfortunately, from I Feel Pretty to The House Jack Built, movies fell over themselves trying to prove how forward thinking they were.
This ineptitude is especially obvious since many of the year’s best movies proved movies can still deliver a socially aware message effectively. Hereditary subtly addressed how easily some will dismiss women. Infinity War had a cast whose diversity is never once mentioned in the movie. BlacKkKlansman dealt with racism head on and was as great as it was uncomfortable. Most tellingly, Upgrade proved you can have a highly enjoyable movie without shoehorning in social commentary.
If Hollywood wants to continue to pat itself on the back for inclusivity even though statistics prove otherwise, fine. If long running awards shows want to hold a long song and dance about how forward thinking studios are before giving awards to the same men they always have, more power to them. But self congratulatory press releases and ceremonies aside, social messages should be left to the filmmakers who know what they are doing.