Imagine you work for a media outlet that has unfettered access to some of the most revered artists, actors, and storytellers in the world. Imagine you work for a magazine or a website that gives you the opportunity to ask questions to Academy Award-winning filmmakers promoting their newest projects. What would you talk to them about? What question would you ask to, say, Jane Campion after having just watched her first feature film in over a decade, which critics (including our own Joey Magidson) are hailing as one of the best movies of the year and has put her on track to becoming the first woman in history to be nominated for the Best Director Oscar a second time?
Well, if you’re Marc Malkin, a real smart genius boy journalist at Variety, you instead decide to ask her about her opinion on superhero movies; a subject that has nothing to do with the movie she’s promoting now. Shockingly, she doesn’t care for them:
“I think it’s safe to say that I will never do that,” she said, adding, “They’re so noisy and, like, ridiculous. Sometimes you get a good giggle, but I don’t know what the thing is with the capes, a grown man in tights. I feel like it must come from pantomime.”
OH MY GOD HOW DARE SHE?! I am so upset that these stuffy filmmakers constantly badmouth poor, persecuted billion-dollar blockbuster superhero spectacles. Like that old codger Martin Scorsese:
“I don’t see them. I tried, you know? But that’s not cinema. Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well-made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.”
This, predictably, always leads to a firestorm of petulant foam-at-the-mouth rage and I’m-not-mad-I’m-laughing-actually smug dismissiveness from hypersensitive film bros. Because the idea that a generation of filmmakers who have seen firsthand how this one genre has been monopolized by a handful of powerful multi-billion-dollar-valued studios to even further abuse the professionals who work on them and choke out the kind of mid-sized films for adults that put filmmakers like Campion on the map may not be super-thrilled with them is apparently unconscionable. This genre of filmmaking that has popularized muddled stakes, drab color palettes, overworked and underpaid artists in nonunion VFX shops, and temporary narrative non-consequences among American blockbusters is something that the directors of some of the best films of the last fifty years should be praising.
Before I castigate the real villain of this story, let’s just take a moment to acknowledge how absurd these incensed responses from fanboys have been. These Marvel and D.C. superhero movies being trashed by Campion and Scorsese are not some up-and-coming underdog hurting for support; they are the dominant form of mass entertainment by several orders of magnitude. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the most successful movie franchise of all time, earning more than $23 billion worldwide. They have effortlessly managed to snag the most sought-out actors in the world, with a role in a Marvel movie (along with its sizable paycheck) nowadays seen as a “reward” for winning an Academy Award or enjoying a breakout role. Avengers: Endgame dethroned Avatar as the highest-grossing movie of all time (or I guess not anymore? Whatever…). Eternals was the first Marvel movie to garner a “Rotten” score on Rotten Tomatoes and it was still a sizable hit. Marvel movies have won Academy and Emmy Awards, including a Best Picture nomination for Black Panther. The D.C. movies are far behind their competition, but over $8 billion in box office revenues and several accolades of their own is nothing to sneer at, including their character The Joker becoming only the second character ever to score two Academy Awards for performances from different actors in separate films. Superheroes have conquered Hollywood as thoroughly as any film genre has since the collapse of the Old Studio System in the 1960’s. Congratulations, fans – you’ve won! You’re at the top of the mountain! Your favorite movies have won every conceivable title belt in the ring! There’s literally no reason to care at all about anyone badmouthing your precious superhero cinematic universes… unless of course you feel kinda secretly insecure about still being so invested in them into adulthood and are projecting that onto others.
Meanwhile, films like The Piano, Raging Bull, Bright Star, and Silence are becoming an endangered species in the 21st century cinematic landscape. If you’re a woman and/or nonwhite filmmaker looking to follow orders from a studio juggernaut with tight constraints (“Don’t worry about the action sequences; we will take care of those”) for a hefty paycheck, you are living in the ideal era for the medium. But if you’re looking to create the next An Angel At My Table, you’re going to have a hard time making a go of it precisely because of the superhero monopoly. And if you do manage to make a straight-up drama, you’ll be incessantly pelted with questions on whether or not you’ll make a movie about dudes in tights fighting CGI beams of light in the sky instead of questions about the movie you poured your heart and soul into.
Which leads me to the worst people in these stories – the journalists who ask filmmakers like Scorsese and Campion about superhero movies, a genre already covered to death by every mainstream entertainment outlet in existence. Malkin asked that insipid question specifically to generate an article – or, if we’re being honest, a headline – that would get outrage clicks and social media buzz from terminally-online fanboys. These are the “Trump Voters In Midwest Diners Still Love Trump!” articles of entertainment journalism.
So my urge to clickbait-chasers pretending to be journalists like Malkin is this – Please. Just. Stop. These kinds of articles are shallow, cynical, degrading, and reflect poorly on every single person who writes about movies. It is disrespectful to a woman as accomplished as Jane Campion to drag her into discussions about something she doesn’t care for, and flat-out insulting to your readers whose fight-or-flight lizard part of their brains you’re trying to hijack in an attempt to game social media algorithms.
It’s juvenile. It’s unprofessional. Stop it.