How Do Movies And Television Portray Those With Different Beliefs?
Last month, the critically acclaimed sitcom Rosanne returned after more than twenty years off the air. The hour-long revival special made more of a splash than anybody expected. 18.4 million viewers tuned in to watch the premier, with another eight million watching soon after on DVR. No hour-long ABC program has attracted that much viewership in over twelve years.
The biggest story about the Rosanne premier was not the viewers but what they saw. Series creator and lead actress Rosanne Barr is an avid Trump supporter in a considerably left leaning business. Many wondered how she would navigate such politically tense times. Barr’s solution was simple: humanize everyone.
Roseanne’s first episode is about the titular Roseanne and her sister Jackie. Roseanne is a proud Trump supporter while Jackie is an equally proud Trump detractor. The two have not spoken since election night, and when they do meet they mostly just trade political barbs. However, they learn to still rekindle their relationship as sisters (while still throwing political barbs at each other, of course).
While conservative Americans largely supported Roseanne’s first episode, the secret behind its success was not taking advantage of a demographic. Instead of playing to those who share her beliefs, Roseanne Barr and her team left room for multiple worldviews. Plenty of entertainment nowadays often overlooks the need for such room.
Hollywood often struggles representing those with different options. Just look at portrayals of rednecks and rural Americans. Between Deliverance, The Hills Have Eyes, six Wrong Turn movies, an endless slew of Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies and countless other films, redneck psychos have their own subgenre. While positive examples of conservative and rural characters exist, they all seem to take a back seat to uneducated brutes holding shotguns.
The broad brushstrokes Hollywood uses to paint those with different beliefs often repel audiences. An LA times article interviewed southerners about their relationship with media. While they all liked watching movies and TV, the southerners said that lots of entertainment overlooks their experience, especially when it got political. Public relations worker Angelyn Dionysatos mentioned how politics often “diminishes my enjoyment and my experience,” and “I guess I’m not sure of what the real goal is, and when they do that, how they think it’s achieving a goal.””
To clarify, the interviewees were far from luddites. They just preferred to engage in media they felt spoke to their experience more. The interviewees offered shows and movies like LA Through not allowing a space for disagreement, the entertainment industry is cutting off potential customers. Favorite things to watch included Law and Order and romantic comedies.
The huge quantity of alternatives for those dissatisfied with senior work should be worried. Between uninterested audiences and underperforming films, box office revenue is dipping. This was causing many theater chains to lose money hand over fist. Movies and television were not the only suffering forms of entertainment. Both sports and award shows report record low viewership. It is not wise for anyone at the moment to alienate potential customers with politics or anything else.
Getting the capital to continue Hollywood is important, but there is more at play. Showcasing multiple viewpoints in a movie or television show can be healthy. Not only has Rosanne broken records though including mutable viewpoints, but also Parks and Recreation found acclaim and fame though including characters with different ideologies.
It is important to include multiple voices when doing anything creative. Doing so prevents the work from going stale. However, if everyone working in a field is the same, then the work will feel all the same. While Hollywood is concerned with representing many different races and genders, they all often have the same belief. In order to ensure future creativity, new directors need to have diversity of thought and opinion as well as physical diversity.
To clarify, I am not saying that creators in Hollywood should stop writing about politics. Nor should they feel the need to always show both side of every conflict. They should deal with political issues how they see fit. However, if the entertainment industry as a whole embraces one ideology without allowing enough space for another, it should not be surprised when its products get repetitive and less popular.