After a solid first quarter to 2017, Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, leaned back ready to swell stakeholders’ confidence and share balances, answering questions. The event was uploaded to YouTube, and Netflix’s twitter account was primed to fire out quotables fluidly as they appeared.
Mr Hastings, who would you say is Netflix’s biggest competitor? We were treated to a profoundly honest answer: it is sleep. Why waste time fighting over scraps of daytime viewing with HBO, Amazon Prime, traditional television and film? There’s a whole untapped market up for grabs in the twilight hours, and Netflix expends dedicated effort in making sure your attention stays absorbed. Netflix’s twitter status was liked thousands of times; memes about swapping sleep for unmissable shows ping across social networks ever stronger.
You’re familiar with the doomsday notion that large online companies are very happy about the time when our eye twitch morphs into data points to be mined, analysed, flogged online to the highest/baddest bidder. Depending on what you’re reading, that event is just beyond the horizon, or has descended on us nigh.
The silver screen is the lighter side of the same coin. Gigantic superhero franchises and long, flowing film sagas are carefully woven with complex observations of society, contributing to difficult and divisive conversations. Heads of production have masterminded these macro-plots for years at Marvel, DC, Disney.
Unfortunately, this crystalline image shatters when we suspend the fantasy that mass visual entertainment makes genuine effort to internalise morals. Just as for any mega-successful private company in a gigantic and competitive industry, there is one bottom line. Ethical actions are jumped wholeheartedly into, as long as it is the absolute singly best financial gamble available on the excel spreadsheet. Like a philosophical zombie, these seemingly warm choices are hollow.
Scarlett Johansson, Jack Whitehall and Ruby Rose have been the centres of controversy, in their playing of a minority role in a major production, an incredibly rare event. This has opened up public discourse towards questions.
Activists point to the tiny amount of minority actors crossing the void the other way and playing those big, traditional roles. Further still, the precious few times diverse parts make it into the spotlight they are often portrayed with stereotype, to the point that no useful observations can be drawn about their role outside the film itself. How is this balanced with meritocracy, making sure actors are still allowed to act?
The conversation can be contentious and deeply polarising. And yet, it is widely assumed that the same influence a concentrated group of content producers enjoy flows seamlessly into accepted responsibility. This isn’t, and won’t and can’t be the case as long as profit wins out.
This isn’t to say that the effort going into awareness for these groups is in vain. It has seen marked results, and sometimes film companies (or individuals in it, e.g. Scarlett Johansson) have been extremely responsive. As discussed though, to assume that this decision is made out of compassion would be naive. It’s no long term solution.
What else is there? You can vote with your wallet, support smaller production companies doing it differently. Aside from regulating and centralising the production of entertainment, which probably doesn’t sit well with too many Westerners, there really isn’t much else.