One of the buzzwords that gets everyone talking is "gatekeeping." It's the idea that someone is controlling access to something. In Hollywood, it's often used to refer to the people who hold up access to those breaking into the industry.
Gatekeeping in Hollywood can have lots of other connotations, including sexism, racism, and classism, which are all over this town. It's a huge problem that needs to be fixed.
But a lot of times, this word gets tossed around to incite a feeling without actually sussing out if the action of "gatekeeping" is really happening.
Today, this discussion reared its head when actor Simu Liu tweeted in response to a Tarantino quote.
We wrote this morning about Tarantino talking about the metaphorical death of the Hollywood movie star, saying Marvel and other superhero movies killed them off.
“Part of the Marvel-ization of Hollywood is… you have all these actors who have become famous playing these characters. But they’re not movie stars. Right?” Tarantino asks. “Captain America is the star. Or Thor is the star. I mean, I’m not the first person to say that. I think that’s been said a zillion times.”
Shortly after that story went viral, Liu, the star of Marvel's Shang-Chi, took to Twitter to dispute Tarantino's claim.
“If the only gatekeepers to movie stardom came from Tarantino and Scorsese, I would never have had the opportunity to lead a $400 million plus movie,” the actor tweeted. “I am in awe of their filmmaking genius. They are transcendent auteurs. But they don’t get to point their nose at me or anyone.”
In the thread that followed, Liu pointed out that Marvel gave him the chance to be in a diverse movie, one that Disney paid big bucks to make.
“No movie studio is or ever will be perfect,” he wrote. “But I’m proud to work with one that has made sustained efforts to improve diversity onscreen by creating heroes that empower and inspire people of all communities everywhere. I loved the ‘Golden Age’ too... but it was white as hell.”
So what's the issue with these summations? We all know Hollywood is not a bastion of diversity. And we know Hollywood gatekeeping is real.
But it's not real from Quentin Tarantino or Martin Scorsese.
Simu Liu Questions Tarantino and Scorsese's "Gatekeeping" in Misguided Thread
Let's start with the accolades. Martin Scorsese has always been a voice uplifting diversity in cinema. His work done in this area is almost immeasurable. So we'll spend a moment just heralding The World Cinema Project.
The World Cinema Project, formerly World Cinema Foundation, is a non-profit organization devoted to the preservation and restoration of neglected world cinema, founded by Scorsese. Their goal is to preserve and restore neglected films from around the world. To date, 50 films from Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Central America, South America, and the Middle East have been restored, preserved, and exhibited for a global audience.
These movies are incredibly important, not only for diverse voices abroad but to make filmmaking open and accessible to the world. The more we can learn the names of these people and these films, the more we can democratize an art form that is desperate for new voices and ideas.
When it comes to Tarantino, the world does not shrink. He is a movie theater owner who constantly is programming hits from across the globe. Aside from that, read his interviews, and Tarantino is heralding little-known movies from around the world as well. If you take the continent of Asia in particular, he made a love letter to its cinema in Kill Bill, and also worked with Miramax in the early 2000s to bring the movie Hero to America and to help get it a worldwide release.
Also, when it comes to the movies he makes, his numbers stack up pretty well against the diversity shown in Marvel. As Twitter user Greg Packnett points out on Twitter:
- Tarantino films with female protagonists: 5/10
- Marvel films with female protagonists: 4/30
- Tarantino films with non-white protagonists: 4/10
- Marvel films with non-white protagonists: 4/30
How Can Hollywood Get Better?
I am pointing out this thread because I think as artists we have to stop attacking each other and start looking at the systemic problems in the industry. We should be questioning why Disney is not taking chances on non-Marvel diverse titles. And also questioning why other studios are not doing the same.
The real culprit in the gatekeeping comes from the commerce side of Hollywood, not the art side. We have huge issues. As studios greenlight more and more superhero movies, they're leaving diverse auteurs and actors behind. And they're not even looking for them. They're canceling diverse writers' programs and initiatives in favor of greenlighting movies adapted from popular novels or tentpoles that can last decades.
They are not taking chances on movies by new voices who have something to say about the state of the world.
If we waste time and energy picking apart auteurs, we're going to miss the fact that studios are so concerned with the bottom line, they've stripped us of the ability to see diverse voices break in and grow.
And they also create an insane double standard. Everything that's not white has to be a huge hit, or else there are consequences. Those consequences do not come from Scorsese or Tarantino, they come from cash-obsessed CEOs unwilling to foster a new generation of artists unless they play in the sanitary playground of four-quadrant intellectual property.
When was the last time a major studio made something like The Farewell or Moonlight?
Liu is right, old Hollywood was very white, and gatekeepers are an issue. But auteur filmmakers like Scorsese and Tarantino are not the bad guys. They're people keeping the art of this industry alive. They're trying to keep the magic in Hollywood, and we need way more people like them.
Until we attack the systemic reasons why Hollywood is sexist and racist, arguments between artists will be rendered moot. And the moneymen will continue to win at all our expense.