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Here’s How Niche Marketing in Hollywood Might Not Help

ENGLISH Mart 31, 2016
I hope we can keep digging below the surface of #OscarsTooWhite now that this year’s Oscars have been handed out.
Statisticians have noted for decades that Hollywood executives with final say are mostly white men, and the stats don’t change much from year to year, even though the country does.
If the U.S. Census were to be used as a guideline to proportional representation in Hollywood, at least 150 of the more than 300 films made during 2015 should have been directed by women, since women are the majority of the population.
And somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 films should have been directed by someone who identifies as a minority, since the minority community, taken together, is now about 40 percent of the country.
But this is Hollywood, so dream on.
Studio heads were 100 percent white males last year, according to UCLA’s Ralph Bunche Center for African American Studies’ 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report.
That same report indicates that minorities showed a modest gain in movie industry employment last year. But they also remained underrepresented by at least 2-to-1 in all job categories.
Other studies, including those conducted by UCSD’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film and USC’s Annanberg School for Communication and Journalism, find women, as a whole, underrepresented. And the Women’s Media Center finds that over the past decade, women have accounted for just 19 percent of all non-acting Oscar nominations.
But it’s women of color — including African Americans, Hispanics and Asians – who are most missing from the picture.
Money Making Hollywood
Hollywood is very good at moviemaking. It’s even better at making money. And, when it comes to making decisions about greenlighting productions or signing distribution deals, sales potential pretty much trumps artistic value and social merit.
But the studios are also bound to be particularly sensitive now to niche marketing that targets audiences designated as minority groups; urban or black, women (even though we are in the majority), tween and teen.
This year’s politically-generated niche buzz words for marketers have been women and people of color.
The pressure is on. Let’s hope it doesn’t slacken.
But let’s also be wary that the buzz could lead to films that pander to group expectations. That often means boosting the lowest common denominator stereotypical characters in fluff scenarios. It can all be encased in high quality, big-budget production effects, but the concepts are often cheap and devoid of cultural or social relevance.
Let’s hope, too, that Hollywood doesn’t resort to rewriting replays of male-dominated scenarios with women as principal characters, thereby failing to mine the wealth of women’s stories — fascinating narratives — that can be drawn from contemporary culture and from history. I bet that if put to it, any Hollywood executive — female or male — could name 10 women whose stories would make compelling cinema. Let’s see them on screen in the next years, not an all-girl “Ghostbusters” gang.
Unfortunately, when it comes to minority representation, niche marketing does not produce many ambitious movies such as “Straight Outta Compton” or “Creed” – or, from previous years, “12 Years a Slave” or “Selma” or “Belle.” Instead you get more standard fare movies such as “Ride Along” and its sequel.
Demands for more diversity may statistically be satisfied by these niche market films in studies that count every film made in a certain year. But they won’t move the needle in the search for Oscars.
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