The medium of film has only been around for about 120 years. That means it has covered us through the majority of the 20th and parts of the 21st century. During that time, society has had a bit of a learning curve.
Sometimes, movies and shows made back in the day lack the cultural sensitivity we understand today. With the rise of streamers and catalogs, some of these titles are coming to the forefront.
So how should these places deal with this content? We saw certain movies pulled, ones with disclaimers, and even a reluctance to carry others. This has sparked a debate about censorship and lost cinema. Many, myself included, believe the best way to show these films is to have a disclaimer at the front of them and show the rest uncut. After all, this is art indicative of the time. It might be bad, and at times racist, but it's better to see how far we've come than to completely censor what was there.
And TCM ran a bunch of movies with social problems and included a Q&A and discussion in front of and after them to talk about why they were important and problematic.
There are lots of ways to handle this and streamers are learning in real-time.
Paramount Plus is one of those streamers dealing with this issue now. Bob Bakish, Paramount’s CEO, said recently, “By definition, you have some things that were made in a different time and reflect different sensibilities. I don’t believe in censoring art that was made historically, that’s probably a mistake. It’s all on demand—you don’t have to watch anything you don’t want to.”
On the Paramount site, there is this announcement:
Paramount’s library represents over a century of filmmaking and we recognize that a number of our films contain culturally insensitive or potentially offensive content that may reflect what was deemed acceptable at the time but is antithetical to Paramount’s corporate values.
As a company, we strive to create content that embraces diversity and equality. At the same time, we must learn from the past by reviewing and discussing our cinematic history so that we can recognize our failings and forge a better future. We hope and expect that audiences will watch our films with a critical eye, engaging with the subject matter but also bringing a contemporary lens to questions of equality and bias.
I think this is an important stance. Streaming and the lack of physical media has already created a certain aspect of movies that just do not exist outside their digital footprint. As that shrinks, they become harder and harder to get. Even if these movies don't stand the social test of time, they're important parts of film history we can and should study, not just for their artistry but also to understand what was wrong with society back then.
Let me know what you think in the comments.