To start let’s make something perfectly clear: This is not a political post! Nor is it me hating on America, a country I have a lot of time and respect for. This is a post about the movies, or in particular the movies in which America save the day. Which is most of them.
This makes sense. For starters, America make most of the biggest blockbusters (the ones where the world needs saving) and have to appeal to their biggest audience, the American public. Worldwide numbers and gross is important but a movie lives or dies on the American domestic takings so movies gear their films towards that audience.
This is fine but as a British viewer, it often feels slightly self-indulgent from our cousins over the Atlantic. When a disaster afflicts the world, America seem to be the country to pick up the pieces. They get the moral high-ground, their President is the one who is spoken to and represents the Earth or in some cases, a complete nobody is chosen – but an American nobody.
This becomes very apparent when aliens invade Earth. Arrival is a great, recent example of this, with Americans taking the lead on solving the problems while the rest of the world powers play catch-up or in some cases get it catastrophically wrong (more on that later). As a British audience member, I loved Arrival (review tomorrow) but couldn’t help feel slightly put-out when Britain doesn’t even get a look-in when the problem solving begins.
It is worse when other countries are made to look buffoonish or villainous. Britain is often seen as the posh, stiff-upper-lip cousin of the gung-ho and heroic America. This is portrayed pretty well in the alien invasion which occurs in 1996 during American Independence Day. The world waits for America to solve the problem and when Britain get “the call” their response is “about bloody time” from the poshest army officer you could find.
At least in that movie we are on America’s side. In many movies, if you come from Asia, you could well be the villain. For a long while Europeans were the villains taking on America but recent world events seem to have made the evil in the world gravitate around the East. Arrival is another example of this, with China being the movies “villain” for lack of a better word while if you want to kill the President, like in Olympus has Fallen, then North Korea is always a safe bet.
This makes me wonder how people in these countries feel. Does the movie get altered for those specific countries (or shown at all in the case of North Korea) or do the audiences in those countries have to sit through America “defeating” their nation? This seems like a strange choice, particularly for both China and in some cases Russia as well, which are huge worldwide movie audiences.
Altering the movie to suit the country it is being shown in does also include making America the central focus and subsequently the heroes. If we stick in the area of alien invasion, Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds was originally a novel by HG Wells set in Victorian Britain (and was perfectly terrifying because of this) but add Tom Cruise and transfer the action to America and we have the usual “problem” that seems to plague all blockbusters. Of course this is for the appeal of the wider and most profitable audience but as a British citizen, you can’t help but feel slighted.
This reared it’s head once again this year. Not necessarily America saving the world but when the novel The Girl on the Train was adapted for the screen, many (British) fans of the book were shocked that the action was transferred across the Atlantic. It makes you wonder if JK Rowling had not been so determined to keep Harry Potter quintessentially British, that America would have transferred those stories over as well. It can’t be a coincidence that the new, Potter-verse movie not tied closely to a book narrative Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, mostly takes place in America.
This post seems like a rant but it isn’t. It isn’t an issue which plagues me with every movie I watch and I completely understand why America takes the lead in the narratives of most Hollywood movies, particularly the world-ending blockbusters. However I am curious to how the rest of the world views this dominance of America in our storytelling, particularly when they change, corrupt or transfer the setting of the movie to suit their audience specifically.
Overall, we are very thankful to Movie America for saving our lives on countless occasions from many an Alien threat but it would be nice for other countries to both get a look-in ourselves or just not be made to feel like the inadequate, minor ally or worse the actual threat itself! Let me know below what you think about America saving the world, particularly if you come from another country.