11 July 2024

For decades, movies very effectively influence thinking, imposing sometimes controversial values, defying religious concepts, occasionally blurring the lines between rights and wrongs and confusing the world as to who heroes and villains are. That will continue to be the case, but the virtual monopoly in the industry is facing a huge threat, which is being underlined by what is happening in America.

Work stoppage by those responsible for making Hollywood movies the most popular in the word will just further facilitate the filling of the gap by, most remarkably, China. The strikes by writers and more and more actors, said to be the biggest since Ronald Reagan was president of the Screen Actors Guild in 1960, reflect turmoil and resentment caused by fast-developing technology which is reshaping business models, begging questions about pays yet making things easier and easier for content seekers.

Just watch Netflix. Gone are the days when only American heroes saved the planet. There are now valiant Chinese astronauts or brave Chinese soldiers fighting against all odds. Movies and series are not just some creatives’ imaginations because, giving them enough time, they can be the most effective tool in producing or hastening desired social and political results. Consumers grow up being told who are good guys, bad guys, demons and victims. Make your cinematic or TV content popular among the world’s population and you will rule the world. Textbooks and bibles may still work, but they are boring.

America was always exclusively good at it. The Avengers, Superman and Batman speak English and they primarily repel aliens attacking US cities. Filmmakers demonised the Vietcong (The Deer Hunter), made people fear Iran (Argo) and glorified secret devastations on foreign soils (Mission Impossible and Top Gun). So many war movies had American soldiers show sympathy toward the innocent, and portrayed cruelty of locals toward US soldiers (Too many films to mention). When integrity questions were raised about the American mainstream media, “Spotlight came along and even won big awards.

All of the above may be coincidental, but the strikes could change the status quo. After all, eye-catching special effects and magnetic stars are no longer an American monopoly, and what’s happening in the United States could accelerate a big political change concerning what movies could do. In this weeks article in The Guardian, the strikes could obliterate film festivals, award seasons and the livelihoods not just of countless impoverished actors and writers but ancillary crew, caterers and LA dry cleaners, virtually everyone associated with Americas film industry, not just studio heads and other major beneficiaries of the current system.

The article, however, focused on economic or business impact of the strikes. Political consequences may take a lot longer to materialise but they are equally _ if not more _ worrisome when America is concerned.

If the US movie industry is political, its also capitalistic. By that, the whole engine is driven by money, which if too little can create all kinds of problems. When that engine stalls, a new one will assert itself. America may not lose a major political tool overnight, but if something that big crumbles, it will be hard to re-assemble the pieces.

Netflix is still dominated by American movies, but people accessing them have access to the likes of “The Wandering Earth” too. The plot looks very familiar:

The sun is dying, and its expansion threatens to swallow its planets in the process. People all around the world join hands to build giant thrusters to driveEarth out of its orbit on a journey to a new star system. Yet the path is fraught with unexpected dangers, and in order to save humanity, a group of young people in this age of a wandering Earth have to fight for everyone’s survival.

The difference is that the heroes in the sci-fi film are Chinese.

In superpowers’ battles for global supremacy, nuclear arsenals, stealth jetfighters and formidable drones are probably getting too much credit. Films are more powerful than bombs. US powers-that-be are primalarily worried about China’s economic might and military strength, but they should also watchThe Wandering Earth to get the whole picture. Maybe they are watching now, already.

By Tulsathit Taptim