The concrete outside of the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles is dry and cracked, and the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame are now no more than a place for streetwalkers to spit their gum and stomp their cigarettes. Both are obsolete monuments to the long-faded glory of the “Golden Days” of entertainment. The real mark of fame for the brightest and most noteworthy American actors today isn’t a handprint or plaque but rather being at the head of a political or social movement.
A particular star’s appearance on behalf of a cause widely publicized by the tabloids is the official stamp of approval that audiences care enough about that person to read about that person’s schlep to the jungles of the Congo or flight to save a neglected child from a life of poverty. If they’ll read that, they will most certainly go to see that star’s newest movie in the theaters or purchase their album when it arrives on iTunes. Although being involved in a cause, however well known, is no longer a badge of honor these days but rather an essential and legitimizing necessity, the real question is if anyone is really paying attention.
Hollywood has involved itself in the present election cycle at a level never seen before, and perhaps to an extent never to be witnessed again. Typically, the input of A-listers ends after their socially mandatory endorsement of the Democratic candidate. However, through the miracle of YouTube and blog sites such as Perez Hilton, the voices of Beverly Hills’ best are being heard across the country.
After watching the popular “Five Friends” spots, I tried to think of a single film superstar not seen in their time spans, but could only come up with Angelina Jolie, who has done her share of work as a world ambassador elsewhere. Everyone from Scientology advocate Tom Cruise to Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat show up to encourage viewers not to sway toward a specific political orientation, but rather to simply go out and make their voices heard. While these ads are no doubt amusing and admittedly breathtaking in their span of influential appearances, I’ve yet to talk to a single person who was personally inspired by their message and registered for that reason alone. Of course, Hollywood has never hesitated to mine the emotional depths of social and political platforms.
As I prepared to write this article, I originally planned to categorize the varying types of advocacy movies that come out of California studios. But upon some considerable deep thinking and dialogue with a fellow movie lover, I came upon the realization that for the high quality that is typically afforded these kinds of movies, on the whole, they are uniformly and drearily similar. I am still at a loss for one of these Oscar-bait productions that doesn’t involve the lead character or all the lead characters’ loved ones dying by the time the credits roll. Yes, sacrifice is moving, but through this continually repeated message Hollywood seems to be saying that for a cause to truly be heard, blood must be spilled. Maybe producers should consider hiring John Lennon to consult some time, and advise screenwriters to “give peace a chance.” I guess he’s dead too. Maybe Ringo then.
If some serious nitpicking were to occur, it could be said that the most irking in the “change the world” genre of film is the “White Man in Africa” flick. “Power of One,” “Blood Diamond” and “Shooting Dogs” are all notable releases that follow the ridiculous notion that for some reason, the audience is unable to completely connect to a fully African cast. Thus, we see the European ride into town like Shane on his high horse, swooping in to save the day for those poor suffering souls who are completely and totally helpless without the all-powerful “Western Influence.” Thankfully, Don Cheadle entered the spectrum in “Hotel Rwanda” in 2004, and in an additional miraculous act of genre intervention, the man he was playing, real-life hero Paul Rusesabagina, didn’t die at the end of the film! Still, in 2006, we were back to another entry in the canon, “Blood Diamond,” in which Leonardo DiCaprio’s underhanded diamond smuggler was inserted as the cynically loveable martyr and guide through “Darkest Africa.” While I have no place in questioning the significance a single voice may have in changing the world, sometimes stars of the silver screen should stay behind their celluloid and spend time forming more original concepts rather than adopting every kid wandering around a dim straw hut.