Thoughts On The American Film Institute

There’s this thing called the American Film Institute. It was founded in 1967. Their Wikipedia description reads: “The American Film Institute is an American film organization that educates filmmakers and honors the heritage of the motion picture arts in the United States. AFI is supported by private funding and public membership fees.” Basically, they’re like the main authority on American movies. What I know them for is that they rank movies. A lot. Their website is full of movie lists and things. As we know, that is my specialty. And the AFI and I have a lot of differing opinions. So, here for you now, is why the American Film Institute has (mostly) bogus opinions:

Reason 1

In 1998, they released a list ranking the 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time. Ranked 44 on that list is “Birth of a Nation,” the KKK propaganda movie from 1915. This list was in 1998. Now, in 2007 the AFI redid their list, and “Birth of a Nation” was no longer on it (thank God). But still, 1998 is way too late for such blatant racism to have been included as one of the 100 greatest movies of all time, much less being in the top 50. Unbelievable.

Reason 2

AFI also has a list of the top 50 American Greatest Movie Heroes (this one came out in 2003). In this list, out of the fifty greatest heroes, only SEVEN are women. SEVEN. In 2003. That is 14%. That is unacceptable.

Reason 3

On their list of 50 American Greatest Movie Villains (also 2003),“The Man” in “Bambi” is ranked 20. What? The hunter guy that shoots Bambi’s mom is one of your great movie villains? He is not even in the movie? He is literally never shown? Furthermore, he outranked the following villains: Hans Gruber from “Die Hard,” The Joker in “Batman,”

Count Dracula in “Dracula,” and Cruella De Vil in “101 Dalmatians,” to name a few. Disagree. Yeah, Bambi’s mom dying is super sad, but Mufasa dying is way sadder and I don’t see Scar anywhere on this list?

Reason 4

They have a list of 50 Greatest American Screen Legends. To give them credit, they have separate lists for men and women, which was a great idea. However. This list was made in 1999, and to make the list, an actor had to have been in a movie in or before 1950 (unless you had died, in which case you could be included from a later film? Did not understand that loophole). Literally, it was just a list of old movie stars. Give us a list of people who have been in movies since 1950, please.

Reason 5

The above reason brings us to this: the AFI is very much an old white men thing. Like, every single opinion they have is the opinion of an old white man. I do not have time to outline all of the examples of this, because it is literally every. Single. Opinion.

Reason 6

They seem to not like animation very much. In the 1998 list of 100 Greatest Movies, there are only two animated films: “Fantasia” and “Snow White.” To which I say: what the heck? “Fantasia,” really? You know what films were out before 1998? “Beauty and the Beast.” “The Lion King.” “The Little Mermaid.” “Aladdin.” All much better movies than “Fantasia.” The 2007 list also has two animated films: still “Snow White,” and also “Toy Story” (no more “Fantasia”). “Toy Story” is great, but how did none of the '90s Disney movies make this list???

Reason 7

Both the 1998 and 2007 lists of 100 Greatest Movies include the following films: “Citizen Kane,” “Gone With the Wind,” “The Graduate,” and “Annie Hall.” I’m sorry, people talk about these movies all the time and they are just not that good. “Citizen Kane” is boring and sexist, and we are supposed to feel sympathy for a guy who has had absolutely every privilege in the world and is a total jerk. “Gone With the Wind” romanticizes the Confederate South and is boring and too excruciatingly long to justify the hype around “frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” “The Graduate” is about a guy who gets seduced by his girlfriend’s mom. The soundtrack is good, but this movie is just so uncomfortable? Real rapey vibes, but I think it’s supposed to be funny? No thanks. And “Annie Hall” is a film directed by and starring Woody Allen. Woody Allen is a monster. Now, there are some instances where having a movie with an actor or director or whoever that did bad things does not necessarily discredit the entire film. “Annie Hall,” however, does not get away with this. For those who might not know, in 1991 he began an affair with his adopted daughter, Soon-Yi. Yeah, you read that right: his daughter. She was 21 and he was 56. Now, “Annie Hall” came out in 1977, way before that happened, but it stars Woody Allen (a monster), who plays a weird guy that’s real interested in younger women. How on earth did he get into character for that? Like, watching that movie after 1991 (and remember that these lists came out in 1998 and 2007) is something I just cannot stomach.  

Something They Did Right:

On their list of 100 Most Inspiring Films of All Time, “It’s A Wonderful Life” is in first place. That is absolutely correct. Well done.

Final Thought:

Here’s the thing. AFI’s lists are largely based on voting from other movie people (actors, directors, producers, etc), so it’s not like these opinions are entirely on them. But that leads to the bigger issue: Hollywood and society as a whole has a long history of not including women and people of color as leading roles, as heroes, as directors, as writers, or really anything of consequence. We all need to do better in making and supporting media that tells the stories of marginalized communities in constructive ways. We need movies that star a woman as the hero. We need movies directed by black people. We need movies about lesbian couples. We need movies written by a trans person. And also, we need these old farts to stop making these lists that perpetuate the lie that “Citizen Kane” is the greatest movie ever made.