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  • Writer's pictureDiana Shih-Ramsøy

How Do Woke Movies Affect the Viewers?

Although progressive values should be instilled in movies, we cannot overwhelm others by forcing our ideologies on them, only to find out that the majority of viewers learn nothing from woke movies.

This woke environment, politically correct environment, is a terrible thing. And it hurts. It is death to the arts and it's death to creativity. There's no question that there were injustices in the past. Nobody is arguing that point. But how you redress it is how you treat the future - Walter Hill, American film director, screenwriter, and producer.

The term "woke" may be overused these days; it describes an idea of a broader awareness of social inequalities, especially with regard to issues surrounding marginalized communities. The term is not unfamiliar to many if it carefully extends the notion of identity politics, American Leftist views, white privilege, sexism, and recognizing racial injustices.

"woke" became mainstream with the Black Lives Matter movement, where many people used the hashtag #staywoke to spread awareness of racial injustice across the US. For many, "woke" refers to our progressive political movements toward a better future, diverse stories, and inspiring minorities who have been underrepresented on screen for years. For the others who dislike the term, "woke" is a lethal ideology that is forced upon the viewers.

A Woke Theory - is it Killing the Creativity in Filmmaking?

'Sex and the City' sequel red carpet moments, a picture by Caitlin Ochs

An argument or sentiment many people express to oppose the woke in movies is that "wokeism" is killing the freedom to be creative. This sentiment is shared by many, as industry experts complain that white men are being discarded in favor of minorities.

Writers, directors, and producers are concerned that progressive values will harm their careers. It almost seems like a new rule in Hollywood that many cannot cope with. Most importantly, some people believe that wokeism is a downgrade of creativity and authenticity.

Those who take issue with wokeism in movies commonly start the argument with this exact statement: they have no problems with diversity, but it is an ideology forcefully enforced in movies. That is, when ideology is forced upon us, we are less inclined to accept it. We feel that we wouldn't have a choice but to believe in the same views as the others.

Screenshots from YouTube comment

Another argument from those who oppose wokeism in movies is that writers don't focus on writing good stories anymore. Instead, they focus on writing stories for disadvantaged groups. Take, for example, She Hulk: Attorney at Law, a Marvel TV series on Disney+ that has been panned for being a modern feminist fail and cringeworthy.

Screenshots from YouTube comment

These sentiments, however, show me two things:

  1. Wokeism can't solve sexism.

  2. Woke movies can negatively affect the audience if not done correctly.

But is there a right way to show people that we can make movies with diverse cast and crew members without forcing identity politics to an extreme level?

Yes, We Can Make Good Movies with Diverse Casts and Crews

I don’t see myself casting a white dude as the lead in my movie, Not that I don’t like white dudes, but I’ve seen that movie - Director Jordan Peele to The Hollywood Reporter

When asked about his casting choice for African leads, director Jordan Peele didn't hesitate to answer with confidence: "I am finally able to make a movie with black actors."

Director Jordan Peele, image from CNN

For the longest time, we've seen many stereotypical and racist tropes in Hollywood: it's always the black guy who dies first, or Asians are the scientists. Even among many female leads, we see that women are represented based on stereotypes (e.g., blond women are dumb, while brunettes are smart).

Moreover, we can't deny that political views affect how movies represent different countries. For example, Germans, Russians, North Koreans, and now Chinese are the spies. While the superheroes who save the world are often white men from the U.S.

Indeed, we need to change something about these tropes that further stereotypes and racism. In recent years, Hollywood has been moving in a progressive direction. For example, 'Parasite', a critically acclaimed South Korean film that won four Oscars, tells the audience a story about what Koreans are experiencing in real life.

But we are still not doing enough. If any, I'd argue that the media is taking advantage of the diversity bureaucracy in Hollywood while being a hypocrite. Wokeism is more about representations in the West, while other parts of the world, such as Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, are still battling to gain recognition.

In an article written by Omar Al-Ubaydli, titled "Avoiding the woke trap will make the Middle East's society stronger," he attributes the problem of an underrepresentation of Arabs to anti-Arab sentiment.

Although representation is an issue that we must tackle in the film industry, we must not forget that such ideology is still a major feature of life in the U.S. today, while other cultures have their own battles.

The Middle Ground - Let's Not Use the Term "Woke" Anymore

In truth, perhaps "woke" is a term that we should avoid. It is not that we shouldn't make movies with diversity, but we are inevitably falling into the trap of labeling ourselves as one group while alienating another by doing so.

It is interesting to write a piece on wokeism. As an East Asian woman who grew up in Taiwan, I remember the feeling of shock I experienced when I arrived in the US and saw people from different backgrounds. For me, it is hard to focus on race, as I didn't grow up in a society with people of different races other than Taiwanese.

However, I can't deny that, having experienced racism in the US and many parts of Europe, it is disheartening. I'm not sure whether the progressive movement of the "woke" can educate those who discriminate against me for my skin color. I haven't seen any reports or evidence that there have been any changes among us.

If any, I see that wokeness drives people into two extremes: those who strongly support woke movies and those who strongly oppose them. The extreme views of such ideologies eventually drive calamities.

Perhaps the problem isn't about representation anymore. It is about having a conversation about different views and how to talk about them.

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