Last month, I saw Terminator 1 for the first time. I know that's definitely not news to a lot of people: it's only been out for, what, almost 30 years? I liked it. The plot was simple, but also uncluttered and worked in its simplicity. The action sequences were grotesque (in an 80s way), but used the horror of people being shot as a major point in thematic, plot, and character arcs, using the which I found oddly refreshing. I did, however, have an interesting revelation:
You couldn't make this movie today.
The main character, Sarah Connor, is a teenage/early 20s waitress from the 80s with no fighting experience, and she acts like it. She cowers when she's shot at, goes through a horrific time coming to terms with being the target of assassination, and distinctly does NOT fight back until the very end, after her male protector is dead. If you released this movie today, no one would care that it was a completely realistic depiction of how most anyone, male or female, would react in that situation- It would be decried as sexist, of perpetuating stereotypes, etc.
Likewise, I recently re-discovered the old cartoon show Babar. For those of you who don't know, it's the story of an Elephant who travels to a big, very British city, who takes what he learns there back to the jungle to improve the lives of his fellow elephants, and is soon appointed king.
It's a very nice story, but you couldn't make it today because it is, in many ways, about colonialism. There are critics who defended it-that it was a show about the appeal of comforts, the importance of manners and education, but if you made it today you'd probably be hung for daring to depict someone who transplants British civilization into the jungle as a good guy.
Now I understand that there are certain ideas that make us uncomfortable; ideas that we distinctly don't like being perpetuated. But sometimes I look at our approach to movies- how we have to be so careful in everything we do to fit the current political climate- and I worry we're handcuffing our storytelling. Art is, after all, supposed to challenge us and our assumptions, to make us think and reflect. Now, no one wants a revitalization of pro-Nazi movies, but sometimes I feel like we care more about how stories perpetuate our current world views than about how they can accurately depict people in a given situation and give us something to think about, even if it's something we don't agree with or take for granted.
I bring this up, because one of my favorite stories of all time is the movie Hero. Hero is a great Chinese martial arts flick, but it's also a movie I doubt you could make in America without being drawn and quartered. If you haven't seen it, (Spoilers:) the dictator who wants to take over the world? Stomp out everyone's language and replace it with his own? The one who has assassins after him in revenge for the thousands of people he's slaughtered? He's the good guy. And he's not the good guy in spite of those actions, he's the good guy because of them.
It's a distinctly Chinese way of viewing government and unification, but because of that it's very thought-provoking. If an American movie tried to carry that message, everyone would hate it. They'd be accused of supporting genocide-practicing African warlords, of being Pro-Hitler skinheads, anything! You see, in America, we like our morality very 2-D, where it's very easy to hate the other side for disagreeing with us- we may teach shades of gray, but we don't like it in our art.
One of the reasons I really like epic fantasy is it's the only genre I know of that regularly and realistically depicts people with viewpoints divergent from current trends. Even if you don't agree with medieval views of life (and there are good reasons why most people don't,) there is a lot to learn by getting to truly delve into and explore philosophies and societies that fell out of fashion a thousand years ago.
Just something to think about.