‘It will be an interesting experience making a movie where no matter what choices are made there will be some who passionately hate you,’ David Sandberg commented on in 2017. The director of the hit Shazam ended up realising a crowd-pleasing film that is a highlight of the DCEU. However, not all filmmakers are successful as Sandberg. Others, such as Rian Johnson of the Last Jedi fame, fans criticise for their continuation of the Star Wars mythos.
Yet it is not just Star Wars that needs discussion. The 2020 film Birds of Prey and the 2016 version of Ghostbusters caused debate, as they changed beloved franchises for the current times. Complicating this are accusations of harassment. For example, Kelly Marie Tran, who played Rose Tico, reported facing nasty comments. One only has to look at the controversies facing Doctor Who. Fans accuse the legendary British television show of political bias and pandering.
Emotions charge the discussion over movie fans and entitlement.. This is because often, the arguments are political and even personal.
You have ‘movie fans’ who feel stomped on, filmmakers and actors who feel hurt, and critics who feel anger. There is a division between the critics, Hollywood and the fans. The question is: Can we mediate it? If so, how?
Complicating the division is the impact criticism has on film. As fans purchase film tickets, merchandise, theme park tickets and food, major companies will pay (some) attention to the demands of fans. Adding to that, is the digital revolution in journalism. Now, online film fans have just as a powerful voice as any film critic. That’s why you can interpret the division between fans and critics as one of competition. And both are fighting for the soul of genre cinema.
Fans are quick to call critics irrelevant, out-of-touch and not ‘understanding’ of film. Snapping back are the critics, calling movie fans entitled or even ‘incels.’
The Australian website GOAT summarises this phenomenon as: “Right now, the film industry is dangerously close to slipping into a pattern: toxic fans whinge, filmmakers cave to demands, fans continue to whinge, feelings get hurt, fan harassment of some kind happens, and more whining.”
Whether you think fans are toxic is one argument. However, the GOAT is both right and wrong about ‘toxic’ fans. GOAT is correct to call out the devastating effects pandering can have on film. A good example of this is Rey’s botched parentage in Rise Of Skywalker. As many fans were unhappy with ‘Rey being a nobody’, Disney thought the mediation was to give her a birth identity that the fans would care about. It didn’t work. However, GOAT’s assessment is not accurate.
Filmmakers also cave to the demands of investors, foreign powers such as China and the establishment media. Every frame in a film has hours of consideration behind it. Will the investors agree with a PG-13 rating for a traditional family franchise? Will China allow this political thriller to play in their cinemas? How can we utilise traditional media as part of our marketing scheme?
And thus, the filmmakers must consider certain opinions over others. To reword a certain cliché: If you try to appeal to everyone, you end up appealing to no one.
Pandering harms cinema and the blame is not solely a fan creation. Not that fans aren’t important to the filmmaking process. But it often overestimated. This is also because not everyone who sees a movie is technically a ‘film buff.’ Alot of patrons of The Last Jedi weren’t huge Star Wars fans. Also, within a fanbase, is disagreement. Not all Star Wars fans agree on every topic. It’s easy to paint a picture that all fans think alike, but it’s not true.
A fantastic example of a diverse fandom is the Game of Thrones / A Song Of Ice And Fire fandom. No one could agree on who was right for the Iron Throne or any leadership position. Some fans loved Stannis Baratheon, whilst it drew others to Daenerys Targaryen, or Jon Snow.
Although fans widely disliked the last season, there were people who defended some artistic choices. For one, Snowy Fictions defended the series finale. And yes, I have gotten into arguments with my fellow fans over the merits of it.
Yet that is because film fans are intellectually diverse, with different life experiences and tastes. One may see Daenerys Targaryen as a feminist tale, and because of that, she must have a happy ending.
Others (like myself), saw Daenerys as tragic, and prone to dangerous revolutionary rhetoric. Because of that, she must have a tragic ending. However, these opinions don’t make someone ‘less’ of a fan of ASOIAF. A long-standing criticism of fan communities I have is the confusion between disagreement and personal attacks.
This makes sense. Fiction is powerful, and many vision themselves embodied within their favourite characters. When our favourite characters hurt, it feels like we are being mistreated.
However, I’m not arguing that it is weird to feel a connection with fictional characters. It’s great when people connect with fiction on a profound and personal level. The fans that take it too far are thankfully in the minority. That’s why I disagree when people assume that every fan is ‘toxic.’
Not only that, but fans are also welcome to dislike creative decisions. They can complain. Many critics and filmmakers have reached a point where they treat any criticism as evidence of ‘sexism’ or ‘racism.’ We saw that after Ghostbusters 2016, and we still see it today. This results in actors, critics and filmmakers being too quick to label anyone who doesn’t like their work as the enemy.
Is that desirable? For a war between fans and critics? From the perspective of someone who does film criticism and is a fan, it helps no one. Because of that, I’m worried about a movie industry that treats fans with disdain. Yet I’m also sympathetic. As a writer myself, I know that criticism is never fun, but something that all artists must deal with.
This situation will only change if critics and fans are willing to stop assuming the worst in each other. But as said earlier, politics are mixed into this. Attempts by Hollywood for more diversity and female empowerment come across poorly. For this, I side with the fans. Pandering is often awkward, and it never helps when male fans (rightfully) believe that females are replacing them in media.
Also, genre blockbuster filmmakers must accept that their audience aren’t all ‘woke’ feminists. Some of them are critical of it, and they have that freedom. The most vocal fans of The Last Jedi did not criticize Rian Johnson and Disney because of ‘creative differences.’ Alot of it is ideological. Many fans saw their favourite properties, who they had financially contributed to, get distorted in the name of in-your-face politics.
The retort that ‘Star Wars has always been political’ does not soothe any dissident viewpoint. If anything, it flames fans up. It’s also silly to insult the intelligence of your fans, as they contribute not only their money, but their time and attention.
The war between critics and fans will only solve when both learn from their mistakes, and not treat each other like the enemy. Although I am firmly defending fandom in this article, I have nothing against the majority of film critics. I had alot of respect for Roger Ebert while he lived, and I still respect David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz, even if I disagree with them.
Major changes are happening in journalism, and its a scary time. We should work on closing the division, and that involves work from all sides. If anything, the current stirs in Hollywood are part of a wider problem that people feel that they aren’t being listened to.
I will listen to my fellow human beings. And I hope others will too, if there is any hope at reducing the division in society.
What are your thoughts on the current critics vs fans debate? Comment below. Future articles will discuss similar topics, but for now, you can read my articles on Star Wars.
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