Debate: Do movies influence public opinion on social issues?

Rebecca Barkdoll, Opinion Editor

Round 1

Side 1: I believe that movies rarely influence people on issues that matter. Since the dawn of time, entertainment is viewed as a way to escape into a fantasy that helps people forget about the harsh reality of life. Did the ancient Roman spectators call out kings for organizing gladiator battles and chastise them for slavery? No. They only cared about who fought best. In 2019, they are called boxing matches. As Michael Keaton says in “Birdman,” “People, they love blood. They love action. Not this talky, depressing, philosophical bulls**t.” Most people seem to be good at disconnecting movies and reality. Most of the movies these days feature superheroes, romantic comedies or terrible remakes of old classics. Movies like “Gandhi” and “Selma” come once in a while, and are mostly Oscar bait. Movies like these also are endangered and overshadowed by blockbusters like “Avengers” or “Avatar.” People also usually don’t understand nuanced social criticism until it’s shoved in their face like “12 Years a Slave” did and not “Django Unchained.” This way, it’s only fair to say that change would come from real-life situations and not Leonardo DiCaprio showing up on the movie screen and urging people not to throw trash in the oceans.

Side 2: Yes, there’s a lot to be said for the mindlessness that can appear in movies, as with all entertainment. But just because entertainment can distract us from reality doesn’t mean that it’s not useful for addressing issues that exist. While, yes, there seems to be a tendency for the more distracting and entertaining movies to overshadow the ones that are trying to send out a strong message, entertainment wouldn’t be so successful if there wasn’t something we could relate to. So that means that it must address something that resembles reality. Since it addresses things about reality, it gives us something to think about. It could be bullying and ableism in a movie like “Wonder,” or gaining self-confidence in a movie like “Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse.” Thinking about these issues, even in the context of entertainment can bring us to new discoveries and help us process the world better. This can then help us to address issues in a new way. Movies, due to their popularity in the entertainment sphere, are a great way to begin that dialogue.

Round 2

Side 1: Although I agree that movies bring out a discourse that addresses the problems in society, we should also take into account how much discourse actually appears on-screen. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is a book about a journalist and his researcher’s investigation of a missing girl, which turns darker with each page because of the implications each event has on the characters’ psyche, which gives us meaningful social discussion into issues like sexual assault and misogyny. The movie, however, takes the scenic route and focuses on a thrilling story for the general audience. Unless filmmakers are sticklers for source materials, the essence is usually replaced with easy portrayals of themes. Also, Thanos doing the right thing is interesting to have a geeky debate over, but not to influence lawmakers to enforce a one-child policy. If activists get enraged over a cow-slaughter scene in a movie, they direct their fury at the filmmakers for hurting their sensibilities and not at the real-life corporations that are actually doing those things. In short, movies often show what people want to see rather than what’s happening. As Bill Maher mockingly puts it: “How come you made the movie you made, and not the movie I would have made?” The brutally honest movies are sidelined and discourses are restricted to talk shows and critiques. Ignoring problems are not how we grow as a society and most movies cater to what people believe is right, which often turns out to be “cinematic.”


Side 2: As mentioned earlier, movies are a very popular format of entertainment. This means that it’s pretty easy to find a movie that one person’s seen that pretty much everyone else in the room has seen, or at least heard of. The common experience allows the audience to discuss aspects of the movie that might interest them, including issues that arise. Since all entertainment must be relatable to some extent in order to be something that people will consume, this means that the issues being addressed will be something that pertains to real situations. Movies have great potential to reflect current social dialogue, such as Thanos’ concerns for population and sustainability in “Avengers: Infinity War.” Whether the viewer is concerned about these sorts of issues or not, the movie still brings these ideas to the forefront to be discussed. When this happens, it can give an audience the words and analogies they needed to address an issue that they might not have had before. Movies, just like any other form of storytelling, grants us as a community to take further steps toward social change by adding their voices to the dialogue around us.

Side 1 argued by Vinay Pratapa