Whenever something as glitzy and overblown as The Oscars are discussed, jaded people who will watch regardless of their favorite film losing the award always say the same thing; the Oscars don’t matter, so who cares? To be fair, they do have a point. Essentially, this overly decadent awards show is nothing more than a big televised circle jerk where rich Hollywood celebrities hand each other gold statues to imply some type of importance to the work they’ve received that very award for. However, I’m of the belief that they mean a whole lot more than that, and that there is a possibility for the Academy to actually do some good.
As far as awards shows go, it’s fair to say that the Academy Awards are easily the most popular in terms of viewing numbers and memorable moments. Sure, the Grammys and Emmys do come close, but ever since the Kanye/Swift debacle in 2009, there hasn’t really been a moment in either of these ceremonies that has made national news in a while. With the Oscars, it seems like something crazy happens every few years.
To me, the most iconic Oscar moment of the decade was the 2017 Best Picture award announcement for a few reasons. That year, the conversation only seemed to be about two movies; La La Land and Moonlight. Despite both of these being great films, the world was divided on who they wanted to win and who they knew would win, and as for the latter, it seemed like everyone knew that the trophy would go to La La Land, and for a moment, it did. That was until Jordan Horrowitz who realized the mistake as soon as everyone finished their speeches yanked the cue card out of a confused Warren Beatty’s hand and yelled the words we all know by heart; “There’s been a mistake! Moonlight, you guys won best picture!”
Not since Michael Moore’s Bush rant during his acceptance speech for Bowling for Columbine has there been such a shocking and controversial moment. When this happened, I was completely unsure how to feel. On the one hand, I loved both films, but I was so conflicted because I can sympathize with the sheer disappointment of thinking you’ve won and then immediately having that victory snatched from you. However, as the years have gone by, I’ve realized that Moonlight’s win is easily the most culturally impactful to ever happen, and if the Academy continued to go down this road, maybe people’s thoughts on them would have softened a little bit. However, just two years later, they disappointed everyone again by awarding the notorious feel good white savior movie Green Book with the award for Best Picture.
This might be an overstatement, but the air was completely sucked out of the room with the announcement that this film won in the same way it was when Trump won the presidency. There was a mixture of shock and confusion, but mostly disappointment, because in terms of racial awareness in film and among the Academy, this felt like a step backwards. This mostly has to do with the fact that the director of this “story of acceptance” was Peter Farrely, a white man known for slapstick comedies and showing his genitals to unsuspecting women. To me, someone who’s loved watching the Oscars for almost their entire life, this was a massive blow, because I know they can do better, and here’s how.
What Moonlight’s win meant to me and many others was that the Academy was taking a step in the right direction. The fact that a film about a young gay black man on a production budget of only 1.5 Million dollars could have the mainstream crossover appeal that it did is astounding, and it shows that there is room for original and innovative filmmaking in an industry that seems to be preoccupied with cranking out disposable blockbusters as of late. The impact of this win was seen just a year later when A24’s next big film Lady Bird, a film directed by a woman on a budget of a slightly bigger but still relatively small 10 Million had even more mainstream appeal and made almost 50 Million at the box office.
Essentially, the argument that I’m trying to make with this piece is that those who have power should use it, and despite the mainstream attention being focused somewhere that we may not like now, there’s always a way to make a difference. However, the Academy aren’t the only ones with that power, we have it as well. Audiences need to be more proactive in looking for films by people of marginalized groups so that everyone has the ability to share their voice. For those who may not know where to start, below I will link some info on a few different films by people from marginalized groups that are coming out in the near future, and deserve our support.
I hope you find these helpful and continue supporting people whose voices deserve to be heard.
On April 5, 2019, Funimation Productions revealed on their Twitter that they would be releasing a special, limited edition complete Blu-ray set of Dragon Ball Z to celebrate its 30th anniversary. Almost instantaneously, the announcement of this new release caused mass controversy among fans of the series and anime as a whole on Twitter because of the footage shown in the trailer, which you can see below.
So, why exactly are fans angry about this release? What is so bad about the footage shown in the trailer? It all comes down to the fact that Digital Noise Removal (DNR), which removes both film imperfections and actual detail in the image, is disrespectful and destructive to the artwork and medium of film. For Dragon Ball Z specifically, this kind of outrage goes back many years, but it is evident through the practices of other companies as well. For now, let us focus on Dragon Ball Z as a case study.
Dragon Ball Z, like every animated series produced before the early 2000s, was originally animated on cels and shot on film (16mm in this case). This means that every single frame of animation was individually photographed on a frame of 16mm film, later to be made into a master copy (shown above) and converted into broadcast tapes for stations like Fuji Television to air it. The series was brought over to the United States by Funimation in the late 1990s, and as a result helped bring anime into the mainstream in American culture.
Around the mid-2000s, Funimation acquired film copies for the entire series from Toei Animation, who has prior to this never distributed the show in this way to foreign licensees. Film is a very versatile format. In the digital age, remasters of previously lower-quality films and television shows could be easily done just by scanning the original film materials into a computer at a higher resolution than was previously available. For example, if an old movie or TV series was previously only available on standard definition VHS or DVD, a high-definition remaster via a digital scan of the film at either 720p or 1080p could mean a world of difference in visual quality and sharpness. The Blu-ray Disc (BD) format, introduced by Sony in 2006, helped make this possible and easily accessible for consumers to enjoy at home. However, over time, film degrades, and as a result, sometimes it is necessary to make further digital changes in order to restore the product to its pristine condition.
This is precisely what Funimation did, or sought out to do, in 2011 when they began releasing Dragon Ball Z on Blu-ray in the form of what is known as the “Level Sets”. Prior to this, there were multiple DVD releases, the most significant one of which, while universally panned for its poor visual quality, sold the best out of them all.
This DVD release was what is known popularly as the “Orange Bricks”, coined for their distinct orange packaging, released from 2007-2009. The major problem with these DVDs are that they are an incredibly incriminating example of cheap, lazy “remastering” processes that sadly, a lot of companies are doing these days. The main issue with these DVDs is the heavy, aggressive amounts of Digital Noise Removal (DNR) they applied to the image when transferring the film to a digital format. DNR is used primarily as an automated alternative to frame-by-frame manual remastering, in which, instead of humans making corrections and digitally removing blemishes and imperfections on the film, a machine does it automatically instead. On paper, this sounds great. Frame-by-frame remastering is a long and arduous process (let’s not forget that a single second of animation is made up of 24 frames!), so it would be great if a machine could do it automatically for you, right? Sadly, it is not that simple. DNR can remove film artifacts and imperfections, but by doing so it also removes detail from the image, most of the time in the form of film grain. Grain is an essential part of the image of film; it is part of the natural detail captured by the camera when the cels were being photographed. Removing grain means removing real detail from the image, and too much of this can result in visual quality like this.
Yes, they actually sold these DVDs to consumers, but despite these glaring issues, these sets sold like wildfire. They are still so profitable that they continue to be sold at local Wal-Marts and every other retailer imaginable. How could this be? Unlike the previous single DVD releases, which were expensive and had a low episode count, this was the first time consumers could purchase Dragon Ball Z in its entirety, completely uncut, so there was still an incentive to buy it. The most attractive part about them was the low price point and the high episode count (over 30 episodes per set at around $20 is a great deal!), so people ate them up, and Funimation’s cheapness was justified.
Flash forward back to 2011, Funimation had begun to re-release Dragon Ball Z again, but this time on Blu-ray. To many fans’ delight, they decided to take the proper route to remaster the film, this time undergoing a frame-by-frame, manual digital remaster that retained all the graininess of the film materials while removing imperfections and blemishes like tape marks, scratches, hair, etc. It was also presented in its native 4:3 aspect ratio, which the “Orange Bricks” ignored for a widescreen 16:9 presentation instead. Sadly, these sets were canned not one month after they began to be sold, with only the first forty episodes of the series getting this treatment. Funimation claimed that the reason for this was “due to technical challenges of restoring from the original film frame by frame”, and while this may be true, it was also a matter of money. Because of an inflation of different Dragon Ball Z releases happening at the same time, leading to poor timing of the release of these sets, the “Level Sets”, despite being visually superior to any other release in the history of the series, sold extremely poorly and did not make back the money or time put into them.
With these beautifully hand-remastered BDs down the drain, Funimation ceased all releases of Dragon Ball Z for the next few years until they revealed they would go back and re-release the series on Blu-ray again as “Season Sets” in 2014. Unfortunately, these BDs would not receive the same careful, manual and expensive treatment that the “Level Sets” did, but rather, Funimation would once again crop the image and put it through a machine that would do the work for them. While an overall improvement over the “Orange Bricks”, the BD “Season Sets”, too, contain an abuse of DNR and grain removal that makes the image look like watercolor paint, removing any and all detail from the backgrounds and film grain that, again, is inherent to the image of a product shot on film. Funimation apparently chose the right time to release these “Season Sets”, because, like the “Orange Bricks”, they were very financially successful. Funimation, however, has misinterpreted why they sold well. Because the “Level Sets”, which were presented with grain intact and in 4:3, sold poorly, and the 16:9 degrained sets sold well, they assumed that consumers prefer the latter, justifying their disrespectful and destructive DNR practices that would, sadly, not cease to this very day.
With all this, we now have the context as to why fans are not happy with Funimation’s upcoming 30th Anniversary Blu-ray Collector’s Edition of Dragon Ball Z, to be released this November. This limited edition contains the entire series on Blu-ray in very limited quantities (only 6000 will be produced), and is marketed towards hardcore fans who for years have wanted a release that retains the integrity of how the show was originally presented, film grain and all. Unfortunately, that is not what we’re getting here. In fact, Funimation’s marketing for this set is not only blatantly misleading, but also an insult to the very market it is trying to aim. Its main selling point is that it is presented in the native 4:3 aspect ratio, which is all well and good, but then, looking at the footage in the trailers they revealed, we can see that once again, Funimation has taken the cheap, lazy and disrespectful approach to DNR the entire series rather than taking the time to create a quality remaster akin to the “Level Sets” that were so widely praised by fans. For a 30th Anniversary Collector’s set, wouldn’t we expect more effort to be put into it? Wouldn’t we expect this to be the best release it could possibly be, rather than the cheapest way to profit off an anniversary of such a significant series? It seems that Funimation only cares about the money it makes by milking Dragon Ball Z, and for years, has not cared about the actual quality of the product. Because of this, they feel no remorse destroying the image of the artwork as long as it makes them an easy buck, which to me is very scummy and sinister. What’s even more sinister is that Fuimation unlisted their remastering process featurette (shown below) for the “Level Sets” after getting all the criticism about their 30th Anniversary set, showing that they know the issue, but refuse to acknowledge it and would rather fool, mislead and manipulate consumers. To me, a show like this, due to its historical and cultural significance, deserves to be preserved in the best way possible, and this is sadly not the case. Sadly, abuse of DNR is not just limited to this series, or to Funimation, but has become somewhat of an industry trend.
Not even Disney is innocent of abusing the DNR to their older films. When looking at the Blu-ray release of Cinderella, we can see that so much detail is lost that the linework in her dress is completely destroyed. With Sword in the Stone‘s Blu-ray, so much DNR was applied to the image that the animation has become completely washed out, resembling a watercolor painting. Both examples of this are damaging to how the original film was intended to be shown and how is was originally presented. Some have suspected that the reason they distorted the colors and image of Cinderella so much was in order to match the color of her dress with merchandise, so they could more easily sell toys, costumes, and more, which is very disrespectful to the art and integrity of the work.
These are just a few examples of older works of art that have been destroyed by corporate greed and laziness. The fact that companies like Funimation and Disney are taking advantage of consumer unawareness of how film works and how high-definition remasters should be done properly to gain as much profit off a cheap product as they can is sickening to me. In my opinion, works of art from the past, especially those as significant as I’ve discussed, should be preserved exactly how they were meant to be shown and how they were presented to audiences of the past. Sadly, thanks to many companies’ modern “remasters” of older works that only destroy the integrity of the art itself, we may never be able to see how the original films and shows were presented. Thankfully, some older, pre-altered releases of Cinderella exist, but the same cannot be said for some other old Disney films, and as long as Funimation keeps up this practice of manipulation for Dragon Ball Z, fans of the series will never receive a respectful release of that either. This is just the tip of the iceberg; many more companies take this same, cheaper route when “restoring” old films and TV series, putting them through machines instead of doing the work themselves because it is easier and saves them money. As a business, I understand why this would be attractive, but the end results always show a lack of respect for the integrity of the animated and live-action films and TV shows that receive this treatment, and the only way to combat it at the moment is to spread awareness of the issue and plead to others not to support these manipulative, destructive practices. Next time you consider buying a Blu-ray release of your favorite film or TV show from the past, please do some research on that particular remaster to see if it is worthy of your support.
Check out these videos for more information about the controversy surrounding the 30th Anniversary Dragon Ball Z Blu-rays.
Over the years the video game industry has developed into becoming one of the top profitable forms of entertainment beating streaming services, the music industry and the box office. From their realistic and life like graphics to its ground breaking storytelling, it’s no secret that the video game industry has come a long way from the classical 80’s type of games. Take the gaming company Rockstar’s newest installment Red Dead Redemption 2 for example. This highly anticipated western sequel went on to make over $725 million in its first three days of being released, thus making it the largest opening weekend in the HISTORY of entertainment. That’s just one example that shows the success the gaming industry has. However, while these games do make a profit and are enjoyable to play, they are missing a vital role. I think it’s safe to say that when it comes to video games in the public eye, it can be seen as being a more male dominated culture. Because of this, we see a lack of female leads for big video game blockbuster hits. This is a problem the gaming industry has faced for years and continues to face in the present day. However, with the rise of national movements such as #MeToo, we might be able to see a significant change in the gaming industry that will lead to an equal representation of both male and female leads.
In the past, it was almost unusual if a female were to admit she played video games. But now a days, I feel we’re finally growing out of that perception as video games have slowly become more mainstreamed in our culture. If we look at the charts below, you can actually see throughout the years how male and female gamers almost stayed equal with one another as users.
So, with these new found statistics, why is it that video game characters/stories still don’t seem to have a sort of inclusion with female leads? Well one answer to look at, is the marketing side. There seems to be this myth that still holds up today that games with female heroes won’t sell. The reality of the situation is that games with a female lead hero does not have a strong enough marketing budget due to its lack of female lead games that are avaliable. “Games with exclusively male heroes sold around 75 percent better than games with only female heroes.” (Becky Chambers). Male lead games do take over the majority of gaming so it’s no wonder their games get an increase in the marketing budget. It seems to me that this problem has a Sisyphus effect. Because of its lack of female leads in games, the marketing will always stay down and won’t be able to change unless the games change. Until then, we’re going to continue to go in circles.
https://youtu.be/t60azfi_tzEThis is the trailer to the game Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 from 2011. You can imagine the production value is rather high and the commercial follows two male leads.
https://youtu.be/ZfZGhHXwPGEHere’s another live action trailer for Call of Duty Black Ops 2 from 2012. In it, you get to see a little bit of diversity and even a few females kicking some ass. Progress?
Now, it’s not to say that there are no female lead video game characters because there are. In fact, there are some great female leads with a fully developed three dimensional characteristic compared to those that are more two dimensional (Princess Peach in the early years who always seems to be the damsel in distress). However that being said, these lead female characters tend to be more sexualized for the game. Lara Croft in Tomb Raider is a prime example of this. While she’s going around the jungle fighting bad guys and collecting artifacts, she’s doing it dressed in not exactly the attaire you would think.
While the game remains to be a fun action-packed adventure, it almost seems as though the story and the marketing relied on a more sexualized Lara Croft rather than a character driven Lara Croft. This has actually since changed in the newer developments of the Tomb Raider games.
https://youtu.be/QT3kfwrkbvIThis is another excellent example of how female lead games are often sexualized, thus getting the male demographic more interested.
While the gaming industry has tried and failed with female representation, I do believe they are slowly on their way to achieving their goal. There are games that represent a female lead based off of her character and not their sexualization. Games such as the new Gears of War 5, Uncharted Lost Legacy, Mirrors Edge, and Metroid Prime just to name a few. One quick game I really want to focus on is Naughty Dogs ground breaking The Last Of Us, which went on to win over 48 awards including a BAFTA games award for the female lead performer. The Last Of Us is a survival horror game that features a duo narrative starring the lead Joel and the other lead, a young girl named Ellie. Both of these characters are well developed and given very strong realistic personality’s. My hope for the future, is the sequel to the game that is to be released in 2020. This time, we seem to follow an older version of Ellie as more of the lead and a possible represent of the LGBTQ community. You can see from the gameplay trailer below.
While we are still a very long way away to getting equal representation of female leads in video games, one can see how far we’ve truly come in developing these characters and also, can see what the future holds. While there still isn’t nearly as many titled female games as there is male, I strongly believe that the gaming industry will fully turn around. I also believe that the release of the highly anticipated The Last Of Us Part II will play a big role for the future. Unfortunately, it all seems to come down to being a money issue. In order to change this, we need to break the wheel that is the marketing side of the gaming industry and give equal publicity, marketing value, and production value to games for both male and female leads.
As a child, I grew up obsessed with Disney movies. My mom had an entire cabinet dedicated to VHS tapes of every princess movies created (she still hasn’t thrown them out, by the way). These were the movies that shaped my childhood and the perception I had of the world. However, analyzing the movies I loved as a child through the eyes of an adult, I’ve realized that many of these films are problematic. So, how did animated movies made for pure entertainment affect us negatively? And how is the new content they are putting forth changing the way children perceive the world, in comparison to movies of the past?
One of the biggest issues with the Disney of the past is racial stereotyping. As our culture has become more aware and respectful of other cultures, movies that were meant to be innocent fun are actually problematic. In the World War II era, Donald Duck became a symbol of America and support for the American military, appearing on countless propaganda posters. Using a character that children look up to in order to inspire people to join the military ingrains the message of American dominance into people from an early age.
In Pocahontas (1995), Pocahontas’s life was spared by John Smith because of her beauty. She also becomes the “nice” Native American because she saves the life of a white man. Instead of representing Native American culture and women in a more accurate or empowering way, Disney instead made the film about white male dominance. Another movie that has garnered a lot of criticism is Aladdin (1992). The whole film is a stereotype of the Middle East, complete with commentary on how “barbaric” the culture is. And, if you look closely, the “good guys” have much lighter skin than the “bad guys”. Since the initial release of the film, lines from the songs had to be changed because they were too racist.
Taking it all the way back to the beginning with Snow White and The Seven Dwarves (1944), Snow White was prized because she had the fairest skin. From the 40’s to the 90’s, we can see that Disney has released countless films that shaped our childhood. But, due to the racist and stereotypical way the films portray other cultures and the dominant way white Americans were portrayed, the young children viewing these movies grew up with a narrow and misconstrued world view.
In the past few years, Disney is making a conscious effort to make sure they are providing America’s youth, along with the rest of the world, a better representation of different cultures and more diverse range of content. Taking a look at the old films I mentioned previously, you can quickly note that not a single person of color worked in the creative development of the film. However, recent films such as Moana (2016) and Coco (2017) have been praised for their use of consultants throughout the creative process to ensure that both films were culturally sensitive. Moana takes a look at Polynesian culture, whereas Coco is inspired by Mexican-American culture and the holiday Day of the Dead. Both films are a far more accurate representation of a minority group and don’t feature the subtext of white American dominance the films of the past do.
The Princess and the Frog (2009) has received some criticism for being culturally insensitive, but Disney did take a step forward by introducing an African-American princess. The setting of the movie being in New Orleans was also a step away from the traditional films and provided the audience with a subculture within America. Disney recently announced their newest animated film, Raya The Last Dragon (2020), which will be Disney’s first animated feature to take place in South East Asia. The future for Disney’s diversity and inclusion is looking much brighter.
As one of the largest production companies in the world, Disney has an immense influence on popular culture. Their power is like nothing no other company has, which can be intimidating when the majority of their content is created for children. They have an ability to shape the minds of the next generation. Looking back on these films I adored as a child has changed my perception on them. While they are entertaining and nostalgic, it is important to remember how content like this can cause children to become narrow-minded. Instead of condemning the films, I think that it’s important to learn from them and improve. By looking at Disney’s most recent animated films, it’s easy to see that they are actively trying to do better. With the success of films like Moana and Coco, I’m hopeful that the future of Disney will continue to do better.
Müller-Hartmann, Andreas. “Is Disney Safe for Kids?—Subtexts in Walt Disney’s Animated Films.” Amerikastudien / American Studies, vol. 52, no. 3, 2007, pp. 399–415. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41158321.
Tavin, Kevin M., and David Anderson. “Teaching (Popular) Visual Culture: Deconstructing Disney in the Elementary Art Classroom.” Art Education, vol. 56, no. 3, 2003, pp. 21–35. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3194050.