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Why Some Movies Need ‘Cancelling’ and Others Given a Second Chance

When the public fails to approve a film or a celebrity, a backlash can occur, leading to a person or movie lacking credibility in the public eye, leading to the person or film being canceled. Cancel culture is a term used to refer to a modern form of ostracism where an individual, a movie, film, or a book, is thrust out of professional or social circles, which can be online, on social media, or even in person. The challenge with this trend in the entertainment industry is the lack of an actual procedure or method to institute the cancellation.

The cancellation happens out of emotions, and it is easy for it to be based on mere propaganda. As such, there have been numerous cases of cancel culture processes being selective. However, this problem is understandably so because it is the public that comes up with the cancellation, and one cannot dictate how the public thinks. Two movies have been victims of the cancellation culture in different ways.

The movies that I am talking about today are Cuties by Maïmouna Doucouré and Music by the singer-songwriter Sia. Cuties is one example of a movie that has suffered negative impacts of the public’s uncontrolled and selective cancel culture. The movie was supposed to be known for its activism against children’s sexualization. However, this is no longer the case since the movie is no longer on Netflix following a heated backlash and review bombs that followed it way before the movie had been fully released. Therefore, it is essential to construct all the events that came before the review bombing to ascertain whether the movie’s cancellation was justified in the first place.

The movie Cuties was produced and released in France as a coming-of-age drama film. The movie received many accolades from various quotas in France and became an all-time award-winning movie. Some of the organizations and events that gave awards to the cast and the whole directorship of the movie included the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, Cesar Award for Most Promising Actress, and BAC films where the movie was released in France. However, Netflix exclusively purchased its rights in the year 2020.

The rights purchase was a formal process usually done by Netflix when buying any movie or documentary. The main challenge started when Netflix released a poster and a trailer of the movie to be fully released at a later date. The poster depicted several young girls dressed only in panties and bras, which did not sit well with most Netflix subscribers.

The subscribers could not sit and wait to see the movie first since the backlash, and the review bombing started immediately. The response by Netflix on the whole issue did not help the matter, and neither did a comment by the director. The majority of the people who watched the movie when it was fully released declared that the controversy behind it was the very reason why they watched it. Many of the people who watched the movie claimed that they did not see anything offensive after watching it.

Meanwhile, the management of Netflix had become victims of criticisms, including political pressures from various individuals, including Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, Senator Mike Lee of Utah, and Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. Despite the backlash and review bombing that seemed to have taken the day, several pointers in the whole drama that show the cancel culture applied in this movie by the public were not justified. First, the movie was produced and directed in France, a European country that shares different values from most Americans.

It is essential, therefore, at this stage, to ask whether the problem was the movie or the cultural differences that exist between Europe and the United States, which seems to be more conservative. Second, in one of the responses by Doucouré, the movie director noted that the conservative Americans who had not watched the movie in the first place were behind the review bombing.

This comment speaks a lot about the cultural differences behind the movie cancellation, especially concerning the cultures. The response by Doucouré raises another aspect worth considering. When review bombing and backlash came up, the Netflix viewers had not views the movie. The uproar came up as a response to a poster and trailer that Netflix posted. Therefore, it is essential to consider whether the problem was the movie itself or the trailer and poster that Netflix used to market the movie.

Netflix might have accepted that the poster was not appropriate, especially when Doucouré admitted to having received a call from the co-CEO of Netflix apologizing for the poster that they used without consulting her. However, Netflix also came up with a second poster that did not over-expose the girls. Therefore, it cannot be fair to cancel a movie based on a mistake made by Netflix when the original content of the movie had pure intentions.

On the other hand, it is good to review the intentions that the movie had and see whether the people participating in the review bombing knew it. The movie features an 11-year-old girl known as Amy, who is an immigrant girl from Senegal. She does not like the Muslim culture she is being exposed to by her aunt. Peer pressure from her age mates makes her get into aspects like twerking that she learns from her neighbor Angelica. The same peer pressure would later move her to post a photo of her vulva online to get social approval. This becomes detrimental even to her acting life, where Yasmine replaces her. The story does not end well for Amy, who goes to the extent of pushing Yasmine to a ditch and failing to act in a play to the end.

The movie intends to show how the hyper-sexualization of young girls is always detrimental in the long run. The movie should discourage young girls from the peer pressures they may get from social media to be hyper-sexual. However, it uses an example of hypersexualized girls to draw the lesson.

The primary challenge that brought about the review bombing is that viewers did not take time to watch the movie and understand the main intention and message that the movie sought to draw. In this case, the problem is the poster that Netflix used and not the movie. Doucouré claimed in several instances that the people criticizing the movie did not realize that she was on the same side of the argument as them. Authorities gave the same claim in France in their defense of the movie. France claimed that the criticisms were against the free space of creating discussions and conversations in the film industry.

Cuties, therefore, became a victim of negative backlash and review bombing, which are precursors to the creation of cancel culture. It is good to compare the movie with prior movies that might either have been canceled or were not canceled despite having negative characteristics warranting their cancellation.

Take an example of another Netflix movie, 365 Days, that also received review bombings due to the cultural erosion that it seemed to be portraying. However, the movie Music by Sia is an example of a movie that has all the reasons why it should be canceled, yet it was not canceled. The movie has been widely criticized for its use of a character known as Music, who acts as a non-verbal autistic half-sister of Zu’s protagonist.

The primary concern from the negative reviews about the movie has been much to do with why Music should play an autistic character, yet many other people are suffering from autism who could also play the role very well. The critics also came from people with autism who claimed they could play the role in an even better manner than what the able-bodied character did.

The problem was further worsened by the movie director and management, who took the matter lightly through their responses. Music is a perfect depiction of a movie that completely goes beyond the set societal norms where disabled people ought to be given the respect they deserve. The portrayal given by Music while acting as one with autism is a complete disrespect to people with autism. The character comes out as a mockery to people with autism. Comparing this with the well-intentioned movie, Cuties leaves one with questions on whether cancel culture is applied fairly in all situations.

It is easy to come across situations where a well-intentioned movie gets canceled while a movie that should be canceled remains on the screen despite the backlash. This selectiveness leaves several lingering questions that may need to be answered. One such question is whether cancellation should be based on the reviews given and the hashtags that trend either in favor of the movie or against it. This should be weighed against the need of having proper review commissions that can look into a movie before giving a verdict about it and advising viewers on the way forward.

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Call-out vs. Cancel Culture: How Streaming Services Handle Problematic Content

In light of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, many people in positions of power in the entertainment industry have begun to modify the content shown on a multitude of streaming platforms. With ongoing protests demanding justice for Black individuals who have suffered from systemic racism and who have lost their lives because of the color of their skin, some networks are beginning to cleanse their libraries of their racist past. Movements like the #MeToo movement called out high-profile actors and directors in Hollywood such as Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Bill Cosby who were accused and convicted of sexual misconduct. This movement has also caused many networks to modify and question their partnership with known actors and directors. With cancel culture being so new, prevalent, and influential in our society today, these streaming networks are reconstructing their libraries and calling out old problematic shows, people, and films that were once deemed appreciable and loved by society.

In an article from The Hollywood Reporter titled “ Racist, Sexist … Classic? How Hollywood Is Dealing With Its Problematic Content,” Rebecca Keegan introduces numerous ways that Hollywood is modifying, addressing, and taking accountability for its complex history and content. She writes, “For traditional studios launching new streaming services and trying to attract 2021 audiences, their libraries are precious resources, assets to draw viewers saturated with entertainment options via the powerful forces of nostalgia and brand recognition. But these decades-old archives also are minefields of racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of bias that were publicly acceptable in the eras in which the content originally was produced.” As we get older, we tend to want to regress to earlier memories of our childhood and often enjoy the feeling of nostalgia for its comforting, warm, familiar memories. These memories frequently revolve around movies and TV shows that we may have grown up watching. It is not until we get older where the innocence fades. We are confronted with our problematic society’s harsh realities and how these depictions of minorities, cartoons, and all other characters we’ve grown up watching are offensive in nature.

Selected episodes on classic shows such as Community, 30 Rock, The Golden Girls and even the Disney classic Dumbo were all removed from their platform because of their portrayal of blackface and stereotypes. Sweeping the issue under the rug and permanently removing the episode on all platforms does not change the fact that the network ever made the episode in the first place, nor does it alter the fact that these episodes were once deemed publicly “acceptable” in our society.

Filtering these episodes and keeping them “offline” denies people the ability to look back at the time and contextualize a moment in history. Although many streaming networks are unquestionably pulling out episodes and trying to erase them from existence, many other networks have adopted a more accountable approach towards dealing with these specific episodes.

Keegan quotes screenwriter John Ridley, who wrote in the Los Angeles Times calling for WarnerMedia to remove Gone With the Wind from its two-week old streaming service for the sentimentalization towards slavery as well as its stereotypes towards African Americans. Ridley says, “At a moment when we are all considering what more we can do to fight bigotry and intolerance, I would ask that all content providers look at their libraries and make a good-faith effort to separate programming that might be lacking in its representation from that which is blatant in its demonization.” Shortly after the article was published,  HBO Max decided to remove the film from their streaming service.

What was very influential of his op-ed in the  Los Angeles Times was that he was not  “canceling” anyone or anything. The article kindly asked these platforms to check their shows, movies, services and take a moment to consider what it means to be showcasing problematic content without addressing the issues. Instead of automatically canceling, it was more a “call out” for these networks. This op-ed was not blaming or shaming anyone or anything; rather, it asked these networks to hold themselves accountable for the content being produced and published.

Unlike other platforms that have removed their problematic content entirely, HBO Max eventually reposted Gone With The Wind without addressing the issue at face valueJacqueline Stewart, a host on TCM, was hired to briefly introduce the film for its problematic nature, sentimentalization of slavery, and racial inequality that the film depicts right before the movie begins. Christy Haubegger, WarnerMedia’s chief enterprise inclusion officer and head of marketing and communications, says, “Our approach is to confront and contextualize our history.”

The great thing about cancel culture is that it has been highly influential in calling out racism, sexism, and many other types of wrongdoings. People are often quick to disregard anything that may be problematic, even if produced when it was “acceptable.” WarnerMedia has assembled a group composed of historians and advisers from outside the company and representatives from various Warner divisions to examine its archives and continue to edit and acknowledge its problematic history and content to hold themselves accountable without erasing or sweeping anything under the rug.

Although we as a society cannot change the fact that at one point, these films were deemed acceptable and unproblematic to many people, it does not change the fact that they are wrong and that they happened. Keegan quotes Ben Mankiewicz, a TCM host, “Nobody’s canceling these movies, our job is not to get up and say, ‘Here’s a movie that you should feel guilty about for liking.’ But to pretend that the racism in it is not painful and acute? No. I do not want to shy away from that. This was inevitable. And welcomed. And overdue.” There are many things that simply cannot just be “disregarded,” instead of cleaning out and burning down these libraries and pretending it never existed or happened, meaningful conversations can come and teach future generations to come and learn what was there before them.