American Storytime

“It’s not trailblazing to write the world as it actually is.”

                                                                     –Shonda Rhimes, January 2016

Americans don’t know each other, we don’t understand each other, and most of the stories that get told only perpetuate that phenomenon, rather than challenging them like film, stories, and folktales should (see: #OscarsSoWhite). We are witnessing a change in tide thanks to the consumer appetite for stories with new faces (the EMPIRE effect), but most of the people making decisions are much more homogenous than our larger whole. Part of the answer is encouraging the new generation of storytellers, from different backgrounds and with different motivations, to tell their stories. We as consumers can act by creating demand for stories and storytellers who do a good job at it. 

There is incredible allure around the film world for its glamour, but it’s probably more important that we remember it is a primary vehicle for the exportation of American culture, and Americans are the primary consumers. The film industry is also one of the largest American industries, period. Because of that, film has a disproportionate effect on American culture and industry in very practical ways. 

Storytelling can be a driver of equality, but in this country there is a small, unrepresentative group telling only small pieces of a much larger American story (a lot like Congress). We miss too many storytellers who are showing new and honest stories of the U.S. Sheila Nevins spoke about this when she publicly ordered a Black Lives Matter documentary for HBO. Things happening in the country captivate (and rile up) audiences on news platforms, yet somehow the focus in the elite world of film fixates on idealized settings that do not exist to the majority of Americans. 

There is an equality of access question here that blends with issues of education in this country. If a child lives in a town like Ferguson where her schools have been on the borderline of failure for her entire school career, how likely is it that she will graduate, let alone access the film industry? The good news is that the internet, streaming sites, Amazon, etc. provide new ways in, so there is room for would-be filmmakers to record their stories… but they must be cultivated, encouraged and supported.

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