Even with positive representation, we can’t rely on film as drivers of social change

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A recent Varsity article argues the film industry fails to accurately depict the realities of poverty. While this is true to a certain extent, we can’t expect more authentic movies to be the drivers for social change—that comes from legislation.

The article draws on recent films like Joker and Parasite to suggest that the poverty-stricken characters are falsely portrayed in damaging ways. The Journal Editorial Board believes this is true of Joker and other films, but not necessarily of Parasite.

In the Batman universe, we see an upper-class hero beating up homeless villains in dark alleyways after catching them stealing. The poor are portrayed as dangerous, playing into negative stereotypes. While Joker critiques Batman for this, the film ignores other class struggles and privileges like race.  

Parasite shows the economic disparities caused by capitalism and the lengths people will go to survive. While the events of the film are a little exaggerated, the message at its heart is authentic.

That said, films aren’t the be-all-end-all of social change—and they shouldn’t have to be. It’s always a positive thing when films protest social injustices, but we can’t forget the industry is ultimately tied to its capitalist gains. Lately, pushing social change has become “trendy.” Film producers know these types of films sell, but the moment positive representation stops selling, these movies will be nixed from the industry.

We can’t rely on films to be the driving force for change. Instead, we need to advocate for policies that will benefit poverty-stricken communities more than films with positive representation ever could.

It’s also important to consider who these authentic films are ultimately for.

Films provide escapism from reality. Some people experiencing poverty don’t want to watch their struggles repeated on screen; they want to escape those struggles.

Films about poverty ultimately target privileged people, allowing them to experience disadvantages they wouldn’t normally have to worry about. More accurate films potentially benefit these people by expanding their perspectives, but they won’t necessarily help those the movies are about.

There’s no doubt more realistic representations of poverty are needed in film. But this need is relatively small compared to the need for legislation that would ultimately help economically disadvantaged people—and that is far more important.

We can’t expect films to enact social change for us. Instead, we must accept that films are above all fiction. They won’t create the concrete change we wish to see—but policies can and will.

—Journal Editorial Board

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