Movie Question: Does Content Equal Merit?
"American Sniper" had a big weekend. It made boatloads of cash and surpassed some people's expectations. It didn't surpass mine however, I knew it was going to open big. This is a patriotic movie and people flock to films like this by thousands. What shocked me wasn't the box office numbers at the beginning of the week this week. What was supremely shocking was the outcry of controversy that surrounded this movie. Film critics got called out, celebrities got called out, and for a few hours last night, it seemed like the whole country was up-in-arms with itself. I am not here to get into who said what and what it all means. I have a feeling that you probably have a good idea how what was said hit you on a personal level. I am after something specific tonight, and I don't want it to blow into something big, even though I have a feeling that is going to happen no matter what I say.
All over this weekend, my Facebook has been blowing up with reactions to "American Sniper." Everyone I talk to seems to be in unison that "American Sniper" is the greatest, grandest gift Clint Eastwood has ever given us in this lifetime. I am, on the other end, wishing I could see the movie everyone else saw. If you remember from my review Saturday morning, I remember the film being pretty average. I am not going to completely re-write my review, but I will say that the movie left a lot to be desired, especially since I have been reading Chris Kyle's memoir myself. I feel both blessed and shocked that nobody has jumped down my throat about my reaction yet, as several critics have already been lambasted for not loving "American Sniper."
I look over the coarse of film history and I see the exact same reactions, year after year after year. It seems our country gets very obsessed with movies like this, in a very rabid manner. It seems any year when a movie like "American Sniper" is released, every American has to love it. Not like it, not find it okay or uneven, but they have to love it. If they don't love it, then they are un-American, anti-military, progressive, liberal extremist who are in bed with al-Qaeda. Now, I am sorry, but that is overdoing it a little bit. I love this country, and I want all of these big, militaristic, pro-America propaganda pictures to work. But the fact is they don't always work. It seems to me that a significant portion of Hollywood believes they can write a so-so script about the American military and everybody will love it. So sometimes they don't put much effort into making them, why would they? All of their money will get back to them and more, why break your back?
You don't just see this with military movies. I was almost afraid to see "Selma" last night and I was afraid to see "12 Years A Slave" the year before. Because a sneaking suspicion kept creeping into my soul, telling me "what if the movie(s) is bad? Will you be a racist?" See, in America, not only are we supposed to gush over each American military movie, as a white movie-lover, I have to feel white-guilt, no matter if the movie is bad or not, otherwise I am racist. Or if it has to do with another relevant social issue, then I am a homophobic, xenophobic, sexist, ageist bigot. It seems movies about any relevant social issue sets its audience up to fail, no matter if the intent is to do that or not. I say with confidence and honesty that both "Selma" and "12 Years A Slave" are both incredible. I find them incredible for very different reasons, and not because I should like them or because I am racist if I don't like them. I love "Selma" because its essentially a how-to for organizing a revolution and I don't think Martin Luther King's story has ever been approached that way and in such a confident manner. And "12 Years A Slave?" That's essentially a horror movie. There is no other movie in the world, that I have seen, where slavery is portrayed so realistically and shows how hard a man had to survive living in those conditions. They are both harrowing films, and they deserve to be seen. But does that mean EVERY movie about race has to be seen? Well, if they are made poorly, I say no.
If you are steamed about me not falling all over the floor with love for "American Sniper," then come over to my house sometime. Within my almost 1000 title collection of movies, you will find "Blackhawk Down" and "Saving Private Ryan" and "Platoon," and "Apocalypse Now" and "The Patriot" and about a dozen other pro-America, pro-military movies. You see, I DO like movies about this topic, I just like good movies too. You can't just slap together a relevant subject and expect me to pay money to see it, you have to give a little effort too. You have to make me care about the characters and the story you are trying to tell. You have to challenge or confirm my beliefs and thoughts on war and why we fight. You have to be willing to be ambitious and original. If you can't do that, I will not just bend over backwards to give you praise.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said that African Americans should be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. With me and movies, it kind of works the same way. I don't judge any movie on surface value. You may have a movie that looks good, but if it doesn't feel right, I won't give myself over to it. A pro-military movie, or a Civil Rights movie, or a Gay Rights movie or an Immigration movie won't just sell to me because of what it is, but how the film says its message is everything to me. Content never equals merit for me, but the execution of the content always wins. This is how I feel it should be, and if you disagree, that's okay, but if you are going to call me an anti-American, pro-terrorist, racist for it, then you can sincerely get out of my face.
Am I wrong? Should content equal merit in a movie? Should we as an audience give ourselves over to these movies? Should people be so hostile towards those who disagree? Why or why not?