Recently, there has been a backlash over Disney’s casting for the forthcoming musical “The Little Mermaid.” The trailer itself has received approximately one million and a half dislikes due to fans’ outrage and disappointment in the differential racial identity of the actress who played Ariel compared to the original red-head Caucasian animation.
Whilst there is some opposition-held against the actress, much of the protest is due to the deliberate advertisement of political correctness within the remake of the classical franchise. In other words, the backlash was against what the media today calls “woke movies”, with its former term originally stemming from the Black Liberation Movement but has later been lexicalized by those who aim to advance social injustice progress.
You may ask if the woke culture holds a fundamental aim of dismantling systems of injustice, why are movies of such a kind still an issue when the perks of being woke, whose actions would seem righteous, are so fascinating? This article hopes to answer the question by arguing that the proportional fixations of western films on politically- correct storytelling may have limiting influences on the evolution of both woke and pop cultures.
It is worth noting that woke movies do not simply refer to movies with a strong female lead or a dark-skinned actor/actress, but essentially those that involve deliberate swaps of gender and/or racial ethnicities of characters coming from the pre-existing franchise. Most importantly, it is usually done to symbolically deliver a political message while overlooking the entertaining nature as a major goal of franchises.
One consequence is that woke movies have caused the culture to slowly lose its political applicability. Instead of using the term and its associated rhetoric to establish concrete policies for marginalized groups, companies like Hollywood today create movies that intend to idealize the values that are favoured by the woke society that we live in. This is due to the fear of the “cancel culture” which has been on the rise as people start looking at posts written by comedians to politicians. Whilst keeping people and institutions accountable for their actions, it is also necessary to stay respectable for differences in our society. Otherwise, pushing political correctness in all aspects of society will leave no room for mistakes nor expressions for any individual.This may lead the younger audience to grow in a society that is very critical and therefore susceptible to follow wokeness ‘involuntarily’ to a certain extent
Over time, the term goes through what is known as the Phases of image, where narrative detaches from its initial root from the Black movement and shifts towards a hyperrealism concept in favour of white supremacy. Bacon Jr. (2021) noted in Stazi. M’s article stated that “woke” is a modern-day equivalent of other terms which are used as a simulacrum to establish legislations to alienate people from the administrative state further. It becomes a cognitive shortcut to label anyone perceived as “too woke” as an activist, a socialist and an anti-American.
When it comes to the nature of administration, the performing and proliferating nature of media may commercialize the movements behind woke culture into a symbolic idea. As a result, symbolic activism is the new social construct under which one feels more motivated to engage in actions with no real change, but enough to make them feel contributional to making a change. The more walls are being painted declaring equality, the less emphasis is placed on policy change, hence the issue with the ‘woke’ culture at present.
Another consequence is that woke storytelling has reversed the ideals of diversity when the public begins to believe that the way to change is to be “opinionated” and even judgemental about other people. This is exactly what Barack Obama, the former president of the U.S.A, pointed out in his speech against Woke culture. He exemplified that, “If I tweet or hashtag about how you didn’t do something right or use the wrong verb, then I can sit back and feel good about myself because did you see how woke I was?”. Due to narratives being proposed through dramatic rhetoric, plots and players, people may feel wokeness as something to perform rather than embody and live. Ironically, instead of striving to create a tolerant environment, people are now driven to be hyper-sensitive towards any comments of its counterpart, craving for conflicts and rejecting political diversity.
In the art field, the domination of woke culture has largely hindered the freedom of artistic expression and creativity. In an article rating over the classical movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, the author asked a rhetorical question: “Can you imagine Hollywood doing a remake of that movie?”. Although meant as a joke, the question underlies the fact that contemporary film is losing a platform to express cultural variation. Ideally, any kind of story is granted its artistic merit when the narrative challenges the viewers with their imagination and inspires discussion upon a reflecting topic without violating anyone’s trust. However, the reality is that creators no longer produce stories from an artistic point of view, but are limited by the cautious attitude in depicting potentially debatable topics. As a result, from the unexpected Spanish lines spoken by Chavez in Dr Strange, to the bisexuality of Superman, these “forced” modifications of characterization merely unify established, unique work into a category, rather than contributing to diversity. As a result, movies in the recent decade are becoming more forgettable and unoriginal. Hence, with more entertainers taking on a propagandistic approach of production, our future society led by younger generations will begin to normalize and eventually show inclinations toward propaganda over art, leading to a monoculture.
As much as a movie is free to depict politics, the aim should not be to throw subjective ideas of political correctness upon its viewers at the expense of artistic expression. Otherwise, the incompatibility of the two realms may hinder the advancement in each of their distinct evolution. For example, the entertaining nature of cinema culture may turn the bases of politics into a hyper-realistic concept, leading to the lack of emphasis on concrete systematic adjustments. Hence, opposing effects of the woke initiative may occur as symbolic activism drives people to be hyper-sensitive towards comments made upon minorities, leading to an intolerant environment as opposed to diversity. In terms of art, creativity is hindered under the industrial domination of political propaganda, eventually leading to the loss of artistic diversity. Nonetheless, woke art is still the norm today despite its major contradiction. It is crucial to reconsider whether it is worth sacrificing art for political popularity and to challenge the appeals of “woke” culture.