Bojack Horseman—that animated show for adult people that think about adult-like things—was pretty "adult" around America's gun issue.
In one of its more complicated episodes that aired last month, Thoughts and Prayers, an unfortunate piece of news is given to movie producer Lenny Turtletaub: A mass shooting just took place, and my man Turtletaub is angry about it; not because of the non-important stuff like lost lives, but over the PR nightmare it'll create for his new Liam Neeson inspired flick, Ms. Taken.
"I am sick and tired of real-life gun violence getting in the way of us telling stories that glamorize gun violence," cries Turtletaub.
The episode was lauded as this smart, and well rounded point of view over Hollywood's issue of performative sympathy. It rightfully steered clear of the caveman logic of gunfights are bad, blame Hollywood for too much guns. But I'm not about that satirical approach right now. The double digit numbers that read 59 killed, and 527 injured by one man with an automatic, on October 2 in Vegas won't allow me to trivialize this shit into another soft convo around weak gun control. Don't relegate me to animated takes, or messages hidden behind sarcasm and wit; give me my big budget, award-bait dramas that take on this issue head first.
And I'm not just trying to be cynical at Bojack Horseman's expense.
To the episode's credit, it aired before the Las Vegas shooting even happened, but we also know it's happened before. And just off of that, the conversation surrounding mass shootings needs to be on a different level. I need that other option within entertainment that portrays this gun crisis with a dose of doom, fuckery, and gloom. Like when a regular-ass dude like me can watch the grittiness of Omaha Beach in Saving Private Ryan, and feel that punch to the gut. But like so many other times, like clockwork, whenever some senseless, angry white dude with a gun goes off on some angry white dude type-shit, Hollywood is silent. In all its traditions of dancing around dark subjects like racism, drugs, sex and murder, it steers clear of this.
To be sure, some indies and docs have touched on mass shooting sprees in titles like Ben Coccio's Zero Day, Denis Villeneuve's Polytechnique and Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine—but so few mainstream shows or films have. Where are the timely depictions of sprayed bullets and thoughtless chaos that mirror the kind of rawness we got from other tragedies like 9/11?; ex. World Trade Centre or United 93.
I don't want to hear "too dark" as that cop-out answer for Hollywood's refusal to directly approach gun violence. When we look at North America and its addictions, it was always our lust for blood that found equal footing with our idealism. We're a society of dreamers with bits of inner cruelty. Films reflect that, through these yarns of fiction and nonfiction that echo to the best and most fucked up parts of us. And at the same time, they have the audacity to play to our desires, while showing us what those "desires" can do to us.
A study published in the journal Pediatrics has found that gun violence, even in PG-13 films, has gone up since 2000.
Tell me that looks highly hypocritical in the light of the 273 mass shootings that occurred in the United States alone in 2017; matched with the sum zero total of films that addressed any of them on a serious, biographical tip.
The power of the "movie" to help indifferent folks like me become introspective about something so distant and away from my everyday life, can go a long way beyond individual change. Take the 2014 Kurdish short doc, A Handful of Ash, which featured men and women being interviewed about the horrors of female genital mutilation. It's a film that lead to the outlaw of the practice in Kurdistan. Or Philadelphia from 1993, about Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks), and and his lawyer, Joe Miller (Denzel Washington) who fought in court over his unlawful firing over blatant AIDS discrimination and the fact that he was gay. The film brought the subject matter to the forefront and helped viewers identify during a time when stigmatization was at all time high. And you can also thank films like Schindler's List, that fostered a feel of horror within viewers that never experienced the Holocaust.
These flicks went over topics you wouldn't exactly discuss at a bar over a martini; they were all deeply depressing (although, two of them were "hits.") But for some in Hollywood, I can only guess that the silence is its own twisted kind of patriotism. That way, it's easier to avoid the accusation of being exploitative. I get the reasonings for some executive in a suit, but for the filmmaker, an unwillingness to acknowledge or mythologise a problem hungry for introspection is damn criminal and cheapens the craft.
Let's also throw out those tired arguments about of the "mass-shooting" being too tough for storytellers to tell while we're at it. Film as an art form shouldn't play nice with the "happy ending." It's in the terrible, fucked up shit in this world that gives us the material to pause, reflect and think.
If movies of all things neglect to confront this shit on a level that's in-your-face and uncensored, how in the hell can we expect policy makers, and the regular Joes, far removed from tragedy, to do what needs to be done? We know the cycle of mass shootings; shock, "Is now to time to debate gun control?," toothless debate, NRA opposition and finally collective amnesia. Films ought to be timeless in this sense, and immune to the ceaseless circlejerk.
My hope is that more directors, screenwriters, and executives find their guts, and show us what we've been looking at beyond our passive and sometimes dry news filters. Maybe then, they'll be able to say "thoughts and prayers" without it sounding ironic.
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