The most accurate stories get the specifics right. Can outsiders ever emulate that kind of knowledge?
Yesterday, Imagine announced that Ron Howard would helm a film based on the life of Lang Lang, a classically trained pianist from Northern China. The story would be based on the musician’s memoir, Journey of a Thousand Miles.
According to Vanity Fair, "The biopic will trace Lang Lang’s upbringing in Shenyang, a city in northern China, and the sacrifices his family made so he could become a world-famous musician. Lang Lang is set to executive produce the upcoming biopic alongside Howard and producer Brian Grazer."
Normally this would be a big announcement, an A-list director and producer making what feels like an Oscar-bait type movie. But the subject matter of the story and the race of the protagonist are hot button issues in Hollywood right now. Especially since the crew behind the new movie is white.
Even with Lang serving as an executive producer, projects like this have come under heavy scrutiny recently.
The Farewell’s writer-director, Lulu Wang, weighed in on the news on Twitter, questioning whether Howard is the right person to tell this story.
As a classically-trained pianist born in China, I believe it's impossible to tell Lang Lang's story without an intimate understanding of Chinese culture + the impact of the Cultural Revolution on artists & intellectuals + the effects of Western imperialism. Just saying.🧐 https://t.co/63B14TCsRB— Lulu Wang (@thumbelulu) September 22, 2020
If you keep reading her thread, you'll see that Wang added that she is not personally interested in directing the film—but still feels that Howard and Grazer are not the right fit for the project. “I just don’t think these are the artists to grapple w/ the cultural specificities of Northeast China where Lang Lang (and my family) are from. Or w/ the cultural aspect of the physical violence in his upbringing.”
She went on to talk about another 2020 movie, like Mulan, which she thinks suffered from the same lack of representation, saying “Have we learned NOTHING from Mulan? I haven’t said anything because yes representation and many people I love are involved, but I just have to. Just HAVE to. Because 2020 man... and I’m fucking exhausted.”
My gut reaction is...of course someone said something. Hollywood has been getting pinged for these kinds of stories and business decisions for a while. I'm not sure why they thought this one would be any different.
It's safe to say if you are going to have an announcement like this, you should lead with the consultants you're bringing on to these projects and the intent you have to actually learn the nuance of the culture and situation. Having source material is not enough. I think it's very important to talk about the connection to the work and the promise to be authentic.
Even with A-list directors, you can never assume they'll do the right thing.
It's tough, because of the nature of this story I think you really do need A-listers involved to make sure it hits the screen. But maybe only as producers and not as the main creative force. And if they are writing or directing the story, they need to take the proper steps to ensure the story they're telling is accurate. That means publicly acknowledging how you plan to take those steps.
But that's just my two cents.
What do you think of the situation?
What are some strategies Hollywood can employ to still make these kinds of movies at the studio level?
Let us know what you think in the comments.