Movies are one of the most influential media in modern-day entertainment. They can amuse us, but at the same time, educate us. They can be thought-provoking. But most importantly, they can evoke emotions like compassion.
Our culture – our beliefs, attitudes, flaws and strengths – which we see on a day-to-day basis, are reflected to us through movies. But sometimes, they challenge this culture, thereby initiating self-reflection, and force us to come to terms with how modern day society is evolving and changing.
Especially of late, movies have challenged age-old traditions and put the viewer into a position of retrospection. To begin with, Mike Nicholas’ 1969 hit The Graduate depicts an illicit affair of a housewife with a man half her age. The movie was well-received, suggesting that people were happy to see certain set social codes being challenged on the big screen. This change was very welcome when we saw Sundance 2022’s sex comedy-drama breakout hit, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, starring Emma Thompson, which created ripples at the box office and was touted as a potential award season favourite.
Additionally, last year’s Oscar winner, CODA, reflected fishermen culture. CODA tells the story of a child from a modestly-earning Massachusetts family who is conflicted (initially) on whether to support her family’s fishery business and chase her own dreams. The plot appealed to everyone across the globe and thus the movie ended up with the accolades. Similarly, movies like Manchester by the Sea (2016) and Alamo Bay (1985) reflected fishermen culture in the West alongside dramatic family dynamics.
Thanks to audio translations and subtitles, the world has been introduced to different cultures worldwide. The 2019 Oscar winner, Parasite, was highly successful in introducing the world to Korean metropolitan culture, where it shows a family of four living cramped in the basement of a lavish house, owned by another family. The movie reflected the class difference, inequality, and the degrading conditions of some workers in South Korea.
Additionally, the French movie Ma Vie En Rose (1997) depicts French culture through the eyes of a young girl navigating her way through her gender identity. Ma Vie En Rose is probably one of the earliest depictions of a trans character on the big screen. David Dawson’s 2022 movie My Policeman, starring Harry Styles and Emma Corrin, showed us the difficulties of being part of the LGBTQ+ community in 1950s Britain. However, the recently released Indian movie, Badhaai Do, brought forward the concept of the lavender marriage (male-female marriage of convenience) in a Southeast Asian household – a concept which is not often represented in film but is common in real life. The movie was able to start a conversation on the topic, challenging the conventional stance on LGBTQ+ relationships in India.
Movies like Goodbye (2022), Farewell (2019) and Masaan (2015) have been able to make people aware about the rituals that take place after death in the Chinese and Indian cultures respectively; so successful were they that Masaan premiered at the Cannes film festival and won accolades. Films like Coco (2017), Brave (2012) and Bend It Like Beckham (2002) have also been able to explore various traditions that are practised across the globe and have created awareness about different cultural hurdles people may have to go through.
Lately, movies depicting cultural values have become a prime go-to cinema for audiences. The success stories of movies like The Namesake (2006), Life of Pi (2012) and Kantara (2022) are a testament to the fact that stories about culture are slowly gaining some traction among the audiences. Furthermore, rising cultural awareness through cinema has seemed to work in favour of the filmmakers. We are witnessing a cultural shift with movies like Babylon (2022), which reflects the Hollywood era of the 1970s, and Tempura (2022), reflecting Japanese food culture in the guise of a love story. The semi-autobiographical Belfast (2021) by Kenneth Branagh introduced the rest of the world to the conflict in Northern Ireland. The movie also did well at the box office and earned accolades.
The success of the aforementioned movies has demonstrated that the increasingly diverse depiction of culture is a very welcome change, which not only shall improve cultural awareness but also shows that a reflection of culture in any form will most likely lead to economic gains, whilst parting some cultural insights.