The Great Fatigue

Superficial movie remakes lose value while competing with digital platforms  

Wen Zhai // Contributor 
Amy Asin // Illustrator

If you plan to binge-watch movies once the pandemic is over, I have a horror story for you: an estimated 121 remakes are currently under production in Hollywood. The movie industry as a whole has faced increased competition from streaming services, such as Netflix, who disrupted the industry by being more responsive to the audience. Remakes are just one of many desperate attempts to revitalize cinema’s decreasing market share and maintain its diminishing glory. These days, originality is more and more rare on the big screen. 

The success of a movie paves the way for its remakes, including sequels, prequels and spin-offs. With so many remakes bombarding the market, it’s time for the movie industry to see through the delusion of this gilded prosperity.  

Movie makers do try to add some fresh elements. Political correctness inspires Hollywood to exploit old successes with a new politically appealing crew of minority actors.  

The Chinese-themed movie Mulan is currently the biggest anticipated Hollywood movie in the Chinese community. It’s rare and exciting to see a Chinese leading role with a mostly Asian cast. In the past, many movies claimed to include Chinese actors, only to give them one or two insignificant roles. The Asian American community feels celebrated because of this representation.  

Yet, this live-action remake of the 1998 Disney animated film is an action drama that reinforces the stereotype of the magical and powerful Chinese Kungfu master. Asians are no longer played by Caucasians in ‘yellowface’ – a practice of casting white actors to play Asian roles with makeup and accents. This ‘new’ stereotype is a step up from Coolie, restaurant owner, waiter and servant. After watching such films, the best impression foreigners get is that all Chinese people are good at Kung Fu. The audience remains ignorant about the everyday life, hopes and struggles of their Chinese counterparts.  

In 2020, Disney announced an African American singer as the leading role for the remake of The Little Mermaid. While they embrace diversity, The Little Mermaid is a fairy tale about a European princess, from the original Hans Andersen story. Although the cast may be diverse, the story isn’t.  

Even if producers hire minority actors, movies still don’t explore issues most relevant to ethnic communities. What’s more important is what story is being told, and whether the story enhances understanding or reinforces stereotypes. Representation is not about appearances; representation is about stories.  

As the beacon of the movie industry, Hollywood should be confident in exploring new genres in order to challenge stereotypes, to encourage new thoughts instead of appealing to what already exists. Digital competitors have boosted the small screen. The advancement of technology makes going to a theatre a special ceremonial occasion, rather than the norm. It’s time that Hollywood looks more to other art forms for inspiration, rather than past movies. 

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