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Thursday, August 8, 2019
The Michigan Daily — michigandaily.com OPINION



isney just broke (its
own) record for annu-
al box office earnings
with five months still to go in
2019. The number? $7.67 billion.
That’s on track for $13.15 billion
by the end of the year, which
would almost double the $7.61
billion record they set in 2016.
Disney’s direct production stu-
dio, Buena Vista, has captured
38 percent of the market share
so far this year, and that doesn’t
even include the earnings from
recent acquisitions like 21st
Century Fox (home of “Dark
Phoenix,” “Bohemian Rhapso-
dy”) and multi-studio produc-
tions like “Spiderman: Far From
Home.” But even excluding
those, Disney’s slate this year
has been ludicrous: “Avengers:
Endgame,” “Aladdin” and “The
Lion King” have all grossed over
$1 billion each.
With “Frozen 2” and the
“Star Wars” finale waiting in
the wings to close out the year,
the house of mouse should find
themselves even more comfort-
able after a profitable 2019. But
do you notice something about
all these movies? They’re either
part of — or ending — an exist-
ing franchise or a remake. So,
is the industry slowly becom-
ing a vacuum for originality? Or
is Disney, in its role as market-
maker, leading the industry
away from what Walt himself
used to embody: creativity and
Obviously, this is an exag-
geration. There are still origi-
nal movies. This past weekend,
Upon a Time … In Hollywood”
rewrote history, and Jordan
Peele stripped away the comfort
of seeing our own reflection with
“Us” earlier this year. But both
of those movies were greenlit,
for the most part, because both
directors have track records of
success. That’s really all Dis-
ney wants: proven capability in
the market. Few truly original
scripts are even produced for
the silver screen these days, a
symptom of streaming com-
panies like Netflix, Hulu and
Amazon buying and turning
those ideas into longer-form,
binge-worthy content that can
be re-signed for a second season
if successful. In short, they turn
those ideas into TV.
Movies have followed suit.
Instead of “Toy Story: Season

4”, we get “Toy Story 4.” We get
a spit-shined “The Lion King”
remake with diversity to some-
what rectify the vanilla original
cast of a movie set in Africa. But
it’s not just Disney. Lionsgate’s
biggest movie this year is “John
Wick: Chapter 3.” Sony’s biggest
movie this year is “Spider-Man:
Far From Home” (which was
still made in conjunction with
Marvel, owned by Disney). Uni-
versal’s biggest movie is about
to be, barring a catastrophic
fluke, “Fast & Furious Presents:
Hobbs & Shaw.” Their current
worldwide biggie is “How to
Train Your Dragon: The Hid-
den World,” which is intellec-
tual property from an acquired
company (DreamWorks Anima-
tion). Warner’s biggest movie
will most likely be “It Chapter
Two,” and Paramount’s biggest
is likely to be “Terminator: Dark
Fate,” per Scott Mendelson of

So, it’s tough to say that
Disney has caused this prolif-
eration of recycled intellec-
tual property. Moviegoers in a
content-saturated, streaming-
dominated market want to have
some security in their invest-
ment, especially when they
could’ve just stayed at home
and watched something else on
their streaming app of choice.
“Going to the movies” just isn’t
necessary anymore. The pub-
lic now requires the movie to
be “an event” to even show up.
“Avengers,” “The Lion King,”
“Star Wars”: we go to those
movies for the community pres-
ence, the experience of shared
fandom and the nostalgia of
growing with characters. And
that is why Disney owns the box
office — they own nostalgia.
Millennials who grew up on the
Disney animated features of the
’90s are having their own chil-
dren, and Disney is hoping to
influence them also, continuing

the cycle of recycled nostalgia.
The one good part about
remaking movies is the oppor-
tunity to fix their original mis-
takes. Disney, in particular,
has made a conscious effort to
rectify the diversity issues that
have plagued Hollywood, with
and “The Lion King” featuring
diverse casts, the remake of “A
Little Mermaid” featuring an
African American Ariel, and
“Captain Marvel” showing off
a strong female lead. That is
the most valuable asset of the
Disney “entertaimpire”: the
ability to introduce diversity
and still make money.
Movies like “If Beale Street
Could Talk,” “BlacKkKlans-
man” and “Moonlight,” while
highlighting stories less told
never net anywhere near the
amount any Marvel movie
will — so Marvel can afford,
and is given the freedom, to
franchise a movie with an all-
Black cast; the “suits” of enter-
tainment can still expect to
make back their investments
with “Black Panther 2.” But
nowhere in the future will we
be seeing a “BlacKkKlansman
2,” so we need to see diversity
wherever we can, even if it is
under a superhero costume
or princess makeup. It is also
why those voices of diversity
are starting to be heard louder
on TV and streaming media.
Shows like “Atlanta,” “Inse-
cure,” “Master of None” and
“Ramy” are winning Emmys
and slaying ratings, because
money is made differently and
different in TV than in tradi-
tional films.
So, until Disney runs out
of iterations of its own ideas,
it seems like we’re due for
a slate of stories that we’ve
heard before, at least on the
big screen. And with Dis-
ney+ launching in 2020, don’t
expect the king of entertain-
ment to give up its crown any-
time soon. If you’re looking
for something new, something
authentic or something that’s
plain different, look on your
phone. You’re more likely to
find it there than anywhere

Disney’s monopoly on nostalgia

Akaash Tumuluri can be reached at



t’s been a pretty hectic sum-
mer. Twenty Democrats have
debated each other on stage
twice in the lead up to what might
be America’s most important elec-
tion. The nation has seen divisive
language coming to a nasty head.
And Hannah B. ended her season of
“The Bachelorette” by picking lying
Jed, who she later dumped, instead
of picture-perfect Tyler. America has
been through a lot.
I’ve spent this summer trying to
make sense of it all in the best way I
know how — finding a center in pop
culture. Pop culture is often mocked,
the people who follow it ridiculed.
If you can name every “Real House-
wife” or every song on today’s Top 40,
you’re viewed as less intelligent and
less in touch with important societal
events. I’ve found the very opposite to
be true.
The status of a society is often
reflected in its culture. I don’t think
anything speaks more to the major-
ity’s rejection of Trump than the fact
that a country/rap song by a gay Black
man is now the longest running Bill-
board No. 1 ever. Today’s pop culture
looks a lot different from the media
and music of 10 years ago. There are
teenage gay couples on Disney, super-
heroes that little girls can become
and an overall rise in the representa-
tion of people of color on TV. While
there is still a long way to go before
our media truly represents the lives
and faces of the American people, the
change in who we watch on TV or
listen to on Spotify is reflected in our
government. Of the top five Demo-
cratic presidential candidates, two
are women and one — Senator Kamala
Harris — is a Black woman who is the
daughter of immigrants. Another top
five candidate is an openly gay man.
Public conversation on progressive
policies are being driven by a young
Latina woman. Politics is moving into
the direction of true representation —
but pop culture did it first.
Pop culture has seen female presi-
dents, a feat our own country has yet
to achieve. Pop culture put a com-
mitted gay couple on screen six years
before their marriage would be legal.
From “Orange is the New Black” to
“Hamilton,” pop culture has released
visions and ideas into the world that
one would not see if they merely read
the first two pages of The New York
Times without flipping to section C.
This isn’t a new development.
Mass media and culture has long
been seen as a liberal realm, one that
will show the controversial material,
albeit if for ratings, and get a conver-
sation started. Pop culture is where

kids turn when they want to find ideas
different than those spoiled by their
parents, to discover if they disagree
or not. So why should it be such a bad
thing to turn to? Representation is
important on so many levels. For the
people being represented, it allows
them to actually feel recognized, to
see that their story is worth telling. On
the other hand, it teaches those who
may have grown up in a bubble and
who were never exposed to stories
other than those similar to their own.
The face of the government doesn’t
change unless the people want it to,
and the people won’t want it to change
unless they are accustomed to and
accepting of a diversity that reflects
the United States. Pop culture and
media are great ways to provide such
exposure. Yes, people will get angry,
but society has slowly shifted towards
broader representation, and what we
see in media now is a lot different than
what was shown fifty years ago.
This isn’t to say pop culture is the
end all, be all of representation or
progress. Pop culture still has plenty
of issues with its portrayal of body
image, race, gender, etc. I don’t believe
pop culture is healthy when it is the
center of your life, the sun around
which you orbit. But being completely
blind to it or scoffing at the notion of
caring about it is lazy and pretentious.
Politics, especially now, have just as
much drama, ridiculous figures and
toxic traits as an MTV reality show.
It is in the harmony between these
two toxic, exhausting industries that
we find reason, and maybe a sliver of
sense in this senseless world.
If you spend every morning listen-
ing to The Daily podcast, then NPR
News Now, then throw in a couple
episodes of Lovett or Leave It, that’s
great. But your worldview is more
limited than you may think, and a
huge problem with politics is the
exclusivity associated with it by those
who dedicate their lives to it. If you’re
on the other end, and can list the past
10 winners of Best Picture faster than
the best 10 presidents, impressive. But
the exclusivity of politics lives in part
because few people make an effort
to break it down. It may be silly to
compare pop culture to politics, some
may say it’s like comparing apples to
oranges. But with a reality TV star as
president and Broadway plays about
former presidents, we have moved far
past the blurring of the lines. It’s time
to accept it, instead of reject it — you
might be surprised by the things you

In pop culture we trust


Samantha Della Fera can be reached at


Is the industry
slowly becoming
a vacuum for

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