A Film Columnist’s Sign-Off: Farewell, Claremont

Graphic by Molly Antell

The past three years, I have written film reviews, commentaries on the changing film landscape, and annual Oscar predictions. There have been some fundamental changes within the film industry and elements of slow but concrete progress. For my final TSL column before leaving Claremont, I thought I would reflect on experiences both as a film columnist and member of TSL.

I write this piece with emphasis on the more mainstream, big-budget world of Hollywood that is heavily influenced by the awards shows, and run by major film executives and studios.

In 2016, there was public outcry over the near-total lack of representation of people of color among Academy Awards nominees (#OscarsSoWhite). Though perhaps prompted only by the need to respond to Oscars getting called out, noticeable change has happened in casting for films and recognition of achievement among both nominees and winners of the major awards shows in the past two years (think Jordan Peele, Viola Davis, Mahershala Ali, Guillermo del Toro, and Antonio González Iñárritu).

“Get Out” satirized the classic Hollywood horror/thriller model with a critical racial lens. And there was the phenomenon of “Black Panther,” that opened in mid-February and has made five times as much money as any other movie released in the United States in 2018. On top of that, it had a nearly all-black (and badass) cast.

There is still a significant lack of Chicanx/Latinx, Asian American Pacific Islander, and Indigenous folks in mainstream film, on and off camera. TV is perhaps different with the likes of “Jane the Virgin,” “Fresh off the Boat,” “Atlanta,” and “This Is Us.” The first-ever film with an all-Asian cast produced by Warner Brothers, “Crazy Rich Asians,” is set for release in August.

The greater amount of representation in TV series likely plays a part in why students across the 5Cs seem to prefer to watch TV shows on Netflix, rather than going to the movies, to relax. In addition to this, the cost of going to a movie theater may also play a role. Film critics strongly distance themselves from the idea that TV is better than movies.

Despite the movement toward increasing diversity in Hollywood, the most visible, and arguably most impactful ripple through Hollywood has been and continues to be the #MeToo movement.

However, I hope that the forces behind the movement, revelations, and changes in those with power inside the film industry do not lose momentum. The abrupt end to the careers of box-office heavyweights like Kevin Spacey and Jeffrey Tambor certainly seems to suggest that the studios, producers, and public relations machines of Hollywood have taken the movement seriously.

In fact, I hope other movements outside Hollywood that have taken root in my four years at Pomona College continue unimpeded, including the pursuit of liberation from sexual harassment and even more pervasive sexual assault on college campuses and in the food service, hospitality, and domestic services (housekeeping) industries.

As a film columnist, I have evolved as well. I began inspired by and modeling my writing after Ann Hornaday, the movie critic at my hometown’s newspaper, The Washington Post.

My articles focused on one film at a time and examined technical aspects within the film — storyline, acting, cinematography, and score — with only minimal consideration for the broader implications beyond the film’s main subject.

I have since grown comfortable commenting on broader trends in filmmaking and the film industry. I have also become more well-versed in assessing the industry’s role in maintaining existing systems of domination and representation, while the film industry is occasionally pushing for radical change.

Changes in representation of filmmakers and the stories they bring to life have come largely through the labor of people of color, queer people, women, and intersections among these (for instance, Ava Duvernay, Raoul Peck, Dee Rees, Greta Gerwig).

I’ve also seen TSL struggle and change throughout these three years. There has been a growing inclusion of a variety of life and style perspectives, everything from sex and sexuality to TV and book reviews, and a greater emphasis on investigative reporting that brings in voices of 5C students experiences on these campuses.

And yet, some things have been slow to change. There is still a fundamental lack of institutional support for student journalism here, significantly the result of a lack of funding from each of the seven institutions TSL represents. This has surprised me, I must admit.

The paper has also only recently begun to include a more diverse group of voices and perspectives within its reporting. TSL should strive for a more intentional creation of space for international students’ perspectives on the impact of events happening around the world have on students within our communities.

I leave behind me a trail of critical analysis, dozens of joyous hours in the Laemmle movie theater, and to a great extent, a skepticism about the continuing role of the traditional film industry in popular culture, along with social and community movements.

More generally, I have begun to increasingly question more about whether mainstream film will ever be able to accurately represent the historical period we are living in. (That is not to say I won’t be watching the movies that will inevitably come about in the Trump era.)

It’s been an honor and a pleasure to provide commentary, analysis, and thoughts about a part of popular culture I love. I hope I have been successful at least in this: providing a critical eye toward a beautiful, imperfect medium. Thank you for reading.

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