What We Learned This Week: August 30-September 13

Welcome back to a renewed start for “What We Learned This Week.” I wanted to say a quick thank you for your patience with this school teacher and the month-long hiatus to get the day job in order during this time of tumultuous landscape change in my profession. It appears the hand basket of hell holding the world is still woven strong, even in the movie business. Let’s hit the chalkboard and vent.

LESSON #1: EVERYONE IS ALLOWED TO BOYCOTT— Let’s say this as simple as possible for a few lessons to hammer a few nails in nice a slow. First, you are allowed to boycott whatever the f–k you want, be that a movie, a politician, stance, or general topic, like say Mulan or the Netflix film Cuties. It’s classic “you do you.” You pick your spots and choose your hills to die on. Choose wisely because Lesson #2 is also in effect. 

LESSON #2: EVERYONE IS ALLOWED TO DISAGREE WITH YOUR BOYCOTT— When you go your “you do you” route, other people are bound to go another direction. If you don’t want them to berate your chosen boycott pillar, don’t shame them when they disagree to match said boycott. That’s the challenge of taking the stances you take. You open yourself as a person up to judgment as much as, if not more, than the chosen topic. That’s where your moral consistency matters more than the topic. Hopefully, those people who have chosen their hills to die on have completed the due diligence of research and reflection to fully inform and understand their decision. If you can’t answer “why” with any substance for the stance you’ve taken, then you’re not ready for your boycott and are doing it wrong. Maybe you need Lesson #3.

LESSON #3: SEE OR LEARN THE THING YOU’RE PISSING AND MOANING ABOUT WITH YOUR BOYCOTT BEFORE YOU “CANCEL” IT— Here’s a full, blunt, and honest first-person admission from me as a person AND as a film critic. If there is one thing I cannot stand, it’s someone who takes on stump speeches, boycotts, and cancel culture movement protests without seeing, experiencing, or learning about the thing you are hating or defending. If you cannot answer that “why” from Lesson #2 with substance, I lose a measure of respect for you, especially if you are pissing and moaning sight unseen for what you are complaining about. Have you seen Netflix’s Cuties? No? Then STFU. Go see the damn thing. Ruffle your feathers. Grit your teeth and get through the thing you supposedly will hate or disagree with. Then you can pass your judgment, light your torches, and take up your pitchforks. You sound infinitely stronger with your boycott if you actually know what the f–k you are talking about with tangible experience. What you need to maybe do (not the case in all things) is Lesson #4.

LESSON #4: PRACTICE SEPARATING THE PRODUCT FROM THE PARTICIPANTS— This is where Mulan rises to be a perfect example of many that apply to this lesson. Disney’s newest re-imagining has been engulfed to a large degree by off-camera controversies of politics and business practices. They have to and will weather that flak. The finished project and its intent is an entirely different thing to judge than the aims and efforts to make it. It may not always work, but you have to try and separate the person from the performance, the product from the producers, and etc. Film critics should review the film as the film in a review. Save the editorial comments that aren’t on screen for a different section of the paper. Mulan is a fine film with excellent entertainment value with likely questionable origins, no doubt. However, you know what, the same can be said about every Tom Cruise, Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, or (*insert canceled person*) work. Enjoying the finished product of someone on your chosen cancel list does not condone said person. If we cancelled every piece with any tie to a questionable sidebar issue, you and I wouldn’t have very much to watch. Call it the price of poker. Choose your boycotts accordingly and, again, be ready for Lesson #2 and Lesson #3.

LESSON #5: THIS IS ALL A BUSINESS FIRST AND AN ART EXPOSITION SECOND— I get to this lesson and the biggest nail to drive home that too many people still just don’t get. As soon as the very first movie charged a dime for a ticket, this became a business first and an art exposition second. Art is wonderful, but if it doesn’t make money, you’re not going to get more art that you want, plain and simple. The goal of the studios and the A-list artists is to make money. We would all love if the entertainment and art end of it all mattered more, but it doesn’t. Paychecks win. Disney does what they do, stomping with hubris, washing what they wash, and cutting corners, to make money. Adam Sandler can make his empty threats about an Uncut Gems Oscar nomination for finally going for the art instead of dollar signs, but he was always, always, always going to return to what butter his bread with Hubie Halloween. They can’t cry and neither can you about such #firstworldproblems. If you don’t like it, good, don’t spend your money on said thing, turn the channel, or scroll on by, but be ready for Lesson #2 and Lesson #3 once you open your mouth to piss and moan again.

LESSON #6: IT’S PERFECTLY OK, IN FACT RECOMMENDED OF YOU, TO GROW, EVOLVE, AND CHANGE— Now, I rant all of that to say this. Grow with your art and entertainment. Open your mind to new things and other ways of thinking different from your norms because the world doesn’t revolve around you. Other people have different situations that yours and the judgment you put on it. Likewise, open your heart to empathy that you are missing or haven’t discovered. Have the personal integrity to be willing to change if necessary. You’re not weak to do that. You are wise instead. If you watch Mulan and loved it for what it was, still learn about the bad practices behind it and understand that side of debate. If you abhor the topic of Cuties, good, you can and you should, but learn and understand that the film doesn’t glorify the ugliness you hear about. It’s quite the opposite in fact.

Heed these lessons well and welcome back to “What We Learned This Week.” We’ll go softer next week, I promise, because apparently, it wouldn’t be a WWLTW in 2020 if didn’t talk about Christopher Nolan.

DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work. (#139)