28 August 2013

What does Hollywood say about International Development?

International development is just about at the bottom of the list of things that the average American thinks about each day.

Foreign bureaus are closing for major US news sources. One of the big television networks turned down more money for global health reporting after a series, entirely funded by grants, led to a dip in viewers. In other words ratings were so bad that the network turned down millions of dollars. It is that tough.

Aside from advocacy efforts like Kony 2012 and Oxfam advertisements, how are people learning about the world around them if they are not reading the news? The answer could be Hollywood.

Reporting on Africa does not get much attention in the US, but a film staring Leonardo DiCaprio about Sierra Leone does.

A film like Blood Diamond, setting aside its problems, brings a big audience to the story of  Sierra Leone's civil war. Most people have likely heard of blood diamonds before, but the film provides an easy to understand explanation for why the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme was put in place a decade ago. The film brought in $171 million despite mixed reviews.
City of God
Recognizing the influence that Hollywood has on bringing the issue of development to the American household, a group of World Bank researchers decided to analyze what these films actually tell viewers about development. It is easy for critics to dismiss popular representation of development. There are reasons to be concerned with the oversimplification of issues related to poverty and conflict. The authors say they are aware of this, but challenge that popular depictions need to be taken seriously given the audience that they reach.

David Lewis, Dennis Rodgers and Michael Woolcock set aside documentaries and focus only on dramatic films from the global north that depict development like Blood Diamond and The Constant Gardner. They point out that they hope to analyze films from global south countries such as India, Nigeria and South Korea that also depict development. Popular films hold potential to bringing forward development issues, but can easily misinform viewers, they say.

"Although we argue that films can be a legitimate and potentially important medium for representation, both intrinsically and instrumentally, we also highlight issues and problems in the underlying nature of their particular representational power, as well as the inherent ambiguities associated with films as fundamentally contextualized forms of representation," say the authors.

continue reading on Humanosphere...