Another year, another list of remakes, sequels and reboots no one really asked for.
It’s commonplace within Hollywood to retell stories we’ve already heard before. Movies such as Annie, King Kong, Batman and A Star Is Born have graced the big screen at least four times or more as remakes.
Production companies nowadays create entire film franchises with multiple sequels or interconnected universes that connect to other movies. Some examples include the eight part Harry Potter saga and the Fantastic Beasts trilogy, the endless Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Extended DC Universe, and the entirety of films that are found within the Star Wars franchise.
Nowadays, even before books are properly published by famous editorial houses, producers scope out the pack to buy rights for film adaptations. With a plethora of stories to choose from, you’d think there would be more diversity within the film industry. Sadly, corporate gain seems to triumph over artistic integrity in most cases.
Think of how uncanny it is that entire generations of people are continually exposed to the same stories under different coats of paint. The first Star Wars film was released in 1977, while The Rise of Skywalker was just released in December 2019. People have been continually exposed to stories from George Lucas’ emblematic universe for decades in all shapes and sizes: animated TV shows, comic books, spinoffs, even live TV specials― you name it, they’ve done it.
Disney's most recent effort to insert the Star Wars franchise into the streaming era of TV
No one really stops to question how and why we’re still consuming these stories after so much time. One could say it has merely to do with the cultural impact of Star Wars, but I believe it goes way beyond that.
Companies like Disney aggressively lobbied back in 1998 to extend the duration of protection for copyrighted works, and they achieved it with the Congress-approved Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998. Essentially, original works on a tangible medium had their copyright term extended to the author’s lifetime, in addition to 70 years. In the case of corporate copyrighted works, their term was extended to 95 years.
Although Disney is unable to truly retain their copyright on original works forever, they can continually adapt and remake their original films while adding new elements in hopes of displacing previous works. On the other hand, Disney makes a profit off of nostalgic, easily recognizable characters and themes, in the same vein as The Pokémon Company has with its 151 original Pokémon that took center stage in late 2018’s Pokémon: Let’s Go! and the original launch of the massively popular mobile game Pokémon Go in 2016.
That said, as a way of establishing cultural relevance, corporations involved in creating films, video games or series will do anything possible to make a profit off of their globally recognizable characters and stories by continually reinserting them into the collective consciousness. Not only does this help to create new, copyrighted works that contain original elements, but it also draws in older audiences in addition to the upcoming, younger audiences.
Although great for big corporate heads, the regurgitation of old stories encourages a lack of uniqueness and diversity concerning the films, series and video games we consume. At the same time, it limits the young talents that are constantly searching for innovative stories that value other facets of the human experience.
Young, upcoming scriptwriters, storytellers and authors are constantly picking at the world to find the next story that needs to be told. They seek out the dramatic potential within our day to day lives, and how to artistically represent these stories so they are as artistically elevated as they are honoring these untold experiences.
It’s hard to fathom spending months, sometimes even years, thinking about a potential story and executing a skilled script only to be turned down as companies produce the 10th iteration of Godzilla and the most recent reboot of Friends (a horrifying hypothetical, but anything is possible).
In lieu of continuously reviving stories we all know and appreciate in their original works, there should be an effort from publishers, producers and corporate heads to seek out new, innovative stories that bring to the forefront issues ignored by society. As illustrated by the success of Ryan Murphy’s Pose, Rebecca Sugar’s Steven Universe, and Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, there is an ever-increasing market segment that craves uniqueness and artistic elevation within storytelling in the entertainment media industry.
There is no need to remake yet another once blockbuster hit but, surprise, with a diverse cast. Let me make this clear: I’m completely for it, especially if we’re talking about the upcoming Little Mermaid remake with Halle Bailey cast as Ariel. However, I would rather watch new stories that feature inherently diverse casts that seek to honor these experiences as an essential part of the story rather than corporate decisions of tokenism and shoehorned representations to capitalize on an obvious need for positive representations of minorities in the media. Halle Bailey, if nothing goes wrong, will be an amazing, necessary representation for young Black girls as Ariel, but I really wish Black girls had more original source material that honors their experiences while also giving them hope and validation.
The need for positive representation is even more evident when stories that originally featured characters of racial minorities are whitewashed for corporate gain, as it occurred with M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender. In this live-action adaptation of the popular series Avatar: The Last Airbender, the villains were portrayed as people of color in contrast to the source material, in which the villains were all fair-skinned while the members of the Water Tribe, for example, had darker skin tones.
Whitewashing is a fairly common phenomenon in Hollywood, so it has become ever more important to create stories with diverse characters whose origins cannot be eliminated from the source material. These are the representations that need to be created to actually impact our collective consciousness, and they can be executed effortlessly with a team of committed and also diverse creatives.
We need more stories like Pose; stories that celebrate diversity and stray away from the typical distorted and ostracizing representations of minorities. People need, and definitely want, stories that blur the lines of genres and captivate the audience while making them think, as Parasite achieved.
Now is not the time to dedicate millions of dollars toward rebooting movie franchises for corporate gain. Filmmakers and creatives everywhere have a social responsibility to, from where they stand, attempt to bring new stories forward into the limelight as responsibly as they can. These types of representations require research, commitment, and a sensibility to the human experience that, when paired with artistic excellence, produces a breath of fresh air that is difficult to ignore among rehashed efforts that lack authenticity.
There are still millions of stories to be told; why not tell the stories that need to be seen, but haven’t? In the long run, corporate greed is never forgotten, but innovative, immersive and creative storytelling is always heralded.