Leah Rozen in The New York Times, writing about the new British film Made in Dagenham, about women in the late 1960s who struck the Ford plant where they worked, makes a cogent point that hadn’t occurred to me until I read her words, though it’s clearly so head-smackingly obvious that it almost doesn’t need to be said: Hollywood doesn’t make movies about working-class Americans anymore. More:
Interviews with a dozen former studio executives, producers, directors, screenwriters and academics confirmed that, while still admired, films focusing on working-class characters like “Norma Rae” and “Silkwood” are considered so last century. Even 10 years ago “Erin Brockovich” only got the go-ahead after Julia Roberts signed on to star.
Today if characters aren’t superheroes, teenage wizards or sexy vampires, they’re architects, lawyers, journalists and other professionals or successful entrepreneurs overseeing chic bakeries or floral shops. Those struggling to get by economically are relegated to crime dramas — white-collar crime offers too few opportunities for shootouts and car chases— or to low-budget, independent films like “Frozen River” and “The Wrestler.”
“The studios feel that the only way to get people out of the house is to show them something that’s going to entertain them in a fantastic way,” [Joe Roth, a producer and former top executive at the 20th Century Fox and Walt Disney studios] added, “whether it’s 3-D, fantasy or crude humor.”
It wasn’t always so. In another dark economic climate, the Great Depression, studios cranked out both penthouse- and tenement-set tales. “You certainly had a lot of escapist fare and musicals to lift people’s spirits, but you also had powerful films that went straight to the heart of what people were going through at that time,” said the documentary director Michael Moore, who admiringly name-checked “The Grapes of Wrath,” the comedies of Will Rogers and the directors Preston Sturges and Frank Capra.
Hey! Yeah! What the hell, man?
How big a problem is it that Hollywood no longer makes movies about blue-collar, working-class people?
Distraction is fine, but as I’ve said many times before, must everything we consume as entertainment be escapist and “aspirational,” a word another Hollywood insider quoted by Rozen uses? Isn’t there room, next to the fantasy, for movies that are about people who look like and live like the people who are seeing them? Isn’t ignoring poor and middle-class people just another way for the mainstream media to ignore us, and pretend our troubles don’t even exist?
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