At this spookiest time of year, and just before Christmas gets its hideous snowy claws into us all, a reflection on leaning on the dark side to make an impact the other way. And a call for support of the trashy side of popular culture in a week where superheroes were slammed by the great and good of the film world. Because not everything should be costumes and explosions, but today’s the day to embrace those tiny underpants in all their lycra wonder.
First up, The Joker’s been reborn with a back story – have you seen it? I’m imagining so, it’s grossed $856.3m USD at the box office so far. It’s seriously good, and a serious dive into one of today’s most important issues, mental health. Aimed squarely at one of the most vulnerable and difficult to reach audiences - young men. The Joker is at times extreme, difficult, and downright nasty. Disregarded and mistreated by society. Misunderstood. Sound like any teenager you know, who’s desperate to sneak in because of the R rating? Or a young person struggling with more debt and less opportunity? But the vulnerability and personal conflict Joaquin Phoenix brings to the role makes more of an immediate impact around mental health than parents, schools, workplaces, and the government can do. Director Todd Phillips is a master of speaking to this audience, from Borat to his scathing and unflinchingly graphic portrayal of US college hazing rituals in ‘Frat House’.
The Joker a desperately needed and impossible-to-escape conversation starter about evil and the world that made him so.
And speaking of conversation starters, popular culture steps up again as ITV’s Ant & Dec, and Uncommon (nice work guys) pause Britain’s Got Talent to launch ‘Britain Get Talking’. A serious push to get the country to make time to talk to their loved ones about mental wellness. It’s these small actions – in people’s homes, or on the bus on the way home from the cinema, that has the power to smash the wall of silence and shame we’ve built around “not being ok”.
The new Watchmen series may have its critics, but I defy anyone to get to the end of the first episode without tears of rage at the real-life (and not well known) re-creation of the 1921 Tulsa Massacre, or the rise of institutionalised white supremacy you see in the ‘present-day’. Handmaid’s Tale it’s not, but there’s an unflinching view of the world in the Watchmen that creates the same moments of dread and recognition as early Gilead.
I’ve also seen ‘The Day Shall Come’ this week, Chris Morris’ new feature highlighting the gross impropriety and ridiculousness of the terrorist-baiting tactics rife in the FBI after 9/11. Again, all empathy lies with the ‘villain’, the suspected terrorist. Chosen by the FBI to fill a quota, targeted because of his mental health and groomed easily because of his abject poverty. If anyone ever had any question about who the good guys really are, I’d suggest watching the film and reading Chis Morris’ account of his extensive research into these stupid games that cost the most vulnerable their liberty and their lives.
Also this week, Voice of a Woman’s film festival launched in London. The best short films directed by women from around the world. It was a packed crowd (of women, come on guys) with the potential to make change by telling stories through another lens – one that 52% of the population identify with and rarely see.
Lastly, for some light relief this Halloween, follow President Supervillain, the Marvel mashup where Red Skull speaks nothing but pure Trump. It’s as if they were made for each other. @PresVillain
Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Ken Loach (who have all made films that have done their bit to change the world) have spoken out about the modern superhero film genre, saying that “it’s not cinema”. Not true. They may never be as powerful as anything made by Ken Loach, who is arguably the most important filmmaker in the UK today; but these films can play a role in culture that has no less real impact because of their scale, and the audiences they reach. Benedict Cumberbatch says we need to support auteur cinema over superheroes. All I’d ask is when we step outside of the blockbusters let’s support the stories that are really struggling to be told and the filmmakers that don’t appear anywhere in this week’s discussion between the ‘male genius’ and popular culture. Support diverse filmmaking like Voice of a Woman and the myriad of independent directors creating the stories that really need to be told. And Ken. Don’t forget Ken.
Laura Jordan Bambach is the chief creative officer and co-founder of Mr President