Art Imitates Life — Resilience in the Movies

Stephen DeAngelis

August 31, 2006

In an amusing New York Times article entitled “French Prince of Mumbai, Building a Global Audience” [21 August 2006], Laura M. Holson describes how “Hollywood” stars are looking to expand their audiences overseas. The article immediately calls to mind Thomas Barnett’s latest book, Blueprint for Action, where in the last chapter he discusses heroes yet discovered. Among those “heroes” he lists “India’s first Oscar-winning Best Picture producer.”

Holson’s story begins:

When you are Will Smith, there are few places you can’t get in. Last year, one of those places was China. Government censors allowed only 20 foreign movie imports in 2005, leaving out Mr. Smith’s romantic comedy “Hitch.” The rejection rankled the actor; China is one of the fastest-growing movie markets. So at a gathering of the Sony Corporation’s top management in January, Mr. Smith appealed to the chief executive, Sir Howard Stringer, and a studio executive, Michael Lynton, to introduce him to Chinese producing partners.

Sir Howard convinced Smith that India was a better gateway to Asia than China. As a result, Smith’s production company now has a two-picture deal with an Indian production company. The article goes on to say:

The deal says a lot about Hollywood’s desire to court foreign audiences. After years of declining movie attendance at home, studios and movie stars are looking for new opportunities. Last week, for instance, Hugh Jackman made an arrangement with 20th Century Fox to produce as many as five films a year in his native Australia. Quentin Tarantino, a fan of Chinese martial arts movies, has marketed Asian-language films in the United States under the banner “presented by Quentin Tarantino.”

For years, Chinese (especially Hong Kong) moviemakers tried to break into the U.S. market. Even though they were successful in Asia, making it America provided them with a validation that success couldn’t. Some, like Jackie Chan and Ang Lee, have made it big. Resilient thinkers like Will Smith and Sir Howard Stringer see the day when making it big in Asia will provide similar validation for actors, directors, and producers who want a global audience. When asked about his global ambitions, Smith replied, “It’s been said, ‘Why sell something to 10 people when you can sell it to 10 million people?’ You have to have a global perspective.”

The article details how Smith has made albums in London, conducted interviews in Spanish in Spain, made movies in Mozambique as well as beginning his newest venture in India. While making “Ali” in Mozambique,

Smith said he saw a woman in a village one afternoon washing her clothes in a river. She spoke no English. But as Mr. Smith walked by, she pointed and shouted, “Gettin’ jiggy wit it!” a popular line from one Mr. Smith’s songs. “I was cracking up,” said Mr. Smith, his body shaking with laughter at the memory. “If she would have said, ‘You’re Will Smith,’ that would have been one thing. But she knew the song. She had to have seen the video to recognize me. And she probably didn’t have a TV.”

While some may see that as the downside of globalization, Tom sees things differently. In fact, he sees a day when members of the new core set the rules for the old core. For example, in Blueprint for Action, he writes: “India’s more G-rated fare will increasingly compete with Hollywood’s more violent and sexually explicit material for global marketplace shares, forcing the latter to tone down its material to remain competitive. This will be a prime example of the New Core setting the new rules as globalization’s ‘face’ becomes increasingly less American.” The entertainment industry, like other commercial sectors, is going to have to learn how to be resilient in the face of globalization’s rapid expansion. Some, like Will Smith, are learning that lesson earlier than most.