Nedra is a social marketing consultant, author and speaker who works with nonprofits and government agencies for positive health and social change using social media, transmedia storytelling and entertainment education approaches at Weinreich Communications.Email me
Movies can envision the need for social change, but it is unclear that they can help bring it about. They are better at pointing the way to a different, happier, more fulfilling life. Not the least interesting thing about the hopeless love dramatized in "Brokeback Mountain," which garnered eight Oscar nominations last week, is how many social hopes it has inspired. Ang Lee, after winning the award as best director at the Golden Globes, hailed "the power of movies to change the way we're thinking," although he later thought it advisable to wait to "see how it plays out."I have to disagree with her premise. I think that movies -- whether feature films or TV movies -- have the potential to change attitudes and beliefs, and ultimately to bring about individual and social change. In many cases, a movie may be the first exposure an individual has to a particular topic, raising the awareness that a problem exists. Think "Erin Brockovich" (environmental hazards), "Hotel Rwanda" (genocide), "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (mental institutions) or the recent "Human Trafficking" on Lifetime, which I've discussed over on Craig Lefebvre's blog.
...Movies can take on the great social problems of their time, but they may be the least effective — or appropriate — medium for solving them. Did "Gentleman's Agreement" mark the beginning of the end of anti-Semitism in America? Did "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" make it easier for interracial couples to marry? Did "Wall Street" help unseat the captains of industry and discredit their doctrine of "greed is good"? Name any "problem film" — whether it deals with discrimination (racial, ethnic, sexual or religious), social reform (of schools, prisons, legislatures) or corporate corruption (national or global) — and you will come up with the same unimpressive results. The more designs a movie has on us, the less willing we are to change our minds, much less our social and business practices.
To a surprisingly great degree, the real power of films to affect social change is determined by the marketing...The irony is that when the Hollywood marketers get hold of a film with the potential to spark social change, they minimize the controversial or issue-based aspects of the movie to make it more palatable to a broad audience. This then waters down the appeal of the film to the people who would be most likely to take the issue and run with it if they had been mobilized as part of the marketing strategy.
Hollywood marketers should take a cue from social action groups, and not just by copying their grassroots marketing model. There are clearly large groups of people out there who care about social causes and are just waiting for a movie they can get behind. If people believe in something, they'll market it for you.
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