Movie stardom is dead. Names like Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Cruise still cling to the superstar status that Old Hollywood legends once held, but there's no denying that audiences no longer approach moviegoing the same way. Whereas actors such as Tom Hanks and Johnny Depp once felt invincible at the box office, their infallibility has been fervently disproven over the last couple of years. Instead, filmgoers have shown that they will now flock to particular franchises, genres, or characters instead.
The Movie Star Is Dead
Take, for example, #RobertDowneyJr, who started his acting career at age 5, and quickly became a household name, earning himself a pair of Oscar nominations and a reckless reputation in his personal life. By 2008, Downey had achieved, lost, and rediscovered his A-list status, at which point he took center-stage in the blossoming #MarvelCinematicUniverse as Iron Man.
Since that time, Downey has become inextricably tied to the role, earning critical acclaim and constant adoration from fans across the globe. He was the most highly-paid movie star in the world between 2012 and 2015 thanks to his role in the #MCU, and many began to view him as the face of the Marvel films. He elevated the Iron Man character from a semi-recognizable hero to one of the most popular superheroes in the world.
One might attribute the franchise's financial success to the presence of Downey, but while the Iron Man and Avengers films soared, Downey's smaller films, built around the merit of his name, failed. Movies like Due Date and The Judge built their marketing around the star, but even with his presence, nobody was interested. Downey has unquestionably elevated the position of the Iron Man character with his phenomenal performances, but to say that people are showing up to see Robert Downey Jr. is wrong. People are turning up to see Iron Man, and Robert Downey Jr. just happens to be a good version of Tony Stark.
With the knowledge that it's not Robert Downey Jr. that people want, but Iron Man, studios might come to the realization that fans are seeing movies to partake in a brand. After all, the majority of fans didn't show up to the first Thor film because they were thrilled to see an unknown Chris Hemsworth; they wanted to see Thor and the newest entry in the MCU.
The Franchise Is King
The idea that people come for the character and not the actor is soon to be proven correct once again in the near future. Right now, the #StarWars franchise is definitively the most popular franchise worldwide. The Force Awakens and #RogueOne both broke enormous box office records, every Disney theme park has put the franchise center-stage, and toys, comics, DVDs and countless other forms of merchandise are flying off the shelves.
This year, Episode VIII looks primed to rake in even more money for the franchise, and next year's #HanSolo film is well-positioned too. Just like The Force Awakens did with Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, the Han Solo film will look to elevate #AldenEhrenreich into superstardom. Bigger names than Ehrenreich (such as Miles Teller and Dave Franco) were up for the part of Han Solo, but Ehrenreich was cast nonetheless. The names Ehrenreich, Teller, and Franco aren't what matter here, it's the name "Han Solo."
On its surface, it's debatable whether or not the transition from star-driven moviemaking to brand-driven moviemaking is a good thing. It might be an unpleasant realization in many corners of society when they come to the conclusion that people only show up when a familiar franchise is involved, but the reality is that moviegoers are just trading one label of attraction for another. Whereas people once chose to go to a movie because it starred Humphrey Bogart or Cary Grant, now they select based on whether or not the film has the proper franchise attachment.
Now, studio executives have to recognize this change in the dynamics of filmgoing: —Stars don't make movies anymore — movies make stars.
Studios Have An Opportunity To Eliminate Whitewashing
With this change in film production dynamics, studios have a chance to fix one of the biggest problems in Hollywood: whitewashing. Whitewashing has been a problem since the beginning of moviemaking, but in recent years, the voices of people of color have brought the topic to the forefront of our cultural discussions.
In the past, studios have perpetually cited the need for A-list celebrities as the reason why white actors occupy the majority of lead roles. Ignoring the systemic problems that come with such reasoning, heaps of evidence now dictate the foolishness of that defense for not casting people of color. The Fast and Furious movies have long succeeded with primarily characters of color, Suicide Squad became a commercial triumph with a cast led by people of all skin tones, and Rogue One is soon to be the highest-grossing film of the year, featuring a woman, and four minorities in the lead roles. You could make a case that Vin Diesel, Will Smith, and Donnie Yen — the rare A-list celebrities of color — all help those movies at the box office, but the Furious, DC, and Star Wars brands are what really draw the crowds.
Let 'Rogue One' Lead By Example
Talking to the people involved in the making of films like Rogue One, it's easy to see that the positives of such a movie extend far beyond mere financial success. The cultural impact of creating a diverse cast also does volumes for engineering a more illustrative and holistic depiction of the world we live in. Speaking with Esquire, Rogue One star Diego Luna relayed his thoughts on the importance of representation in huge blockbusters like the Star Wars movies:
"It gives me hope that these gigantic films that reach everywhere are finally representing the planet and not just one market. Today, the market is the world, and the diversity we experience every day is being portrayed [on film]. That is something to celebrate, you know? Audiences want to feel represented, want to be able to empathize with the characters and the stories they are seeing on the screen. And this is exactly that. I think the smartest part of this whole thing is that it's a modern approach to the universe of Star Wars. It's making a comment on the world we live in today. The first film, 'Episode IV,' is a big comment on the '70s. And the Star Wars film that we were a part of is definitely making a comment on the world we live in, where the role of women is different, where we have this cultural and racial diversity that makes us stronger and richer."
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Even beyond the voices of celebrities, we hear audiences themselves respond to diverse casts, whether it's by seeing the massive box office numbers that Rogue One has put up, or by listening to the stories of new fans who are excited to see people just like themselves appearing on-screen.
We Need To Start Making More Diverse Movies Now
Given the financial success of films such as Rogue One, it only makes sense that studios should reach out and take hold of this opportunity. Studios have long-ignored any moral obligation to tell the stories of people of color and women, but now they would add foolishness to their ignorance if they were to disregard the path that Star Wars is paving. Cultural diversity is nothing but a positive for filmmaking, and studios should take notice.
Franchises no longer have the excuse of needing an A-list celebrity in the driver's seat to bring in fans. We know that movie stardom is dead. Now, that opens up a new window of opportunity to improve by eliminating whitewashing. Let people of different cultures share their stories, and watch as audiences flock to see the representative tales of ever-expanding franchises like Star Wars.
Have any thoughts you want to share on how Hollywood can fix its whitewashing problems? Let us know in the comments!