Thursday, January 5, 2012

cry freedom

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“Cry Freedom”

When analyzing ethical issues in mass communication one inevitably comes across the question surrounding representation. This is especially true when you are talking about TV or film. This issue has recently been debated with the release of the movie ‘Shallow Hal,’ in which, Gwyneth Paltrow plays an obese women by wearing a ‘fat suit.’ The conflict being that there are many overweight actresses that could have represented an overweight Paltrow, and yet Hollywood chose to use the ‘fat suit.’ The movie “Cry Freedom” is also a movie where representation and responsibility are issues. This time the movie tells the true story of the serious issue of apartheid in South Africa. While viewing the movie it becomes clear that although it doubtlessly aided in drawing attention to the horrible situation in South Africa, it also lacked in responsibility to both the story and the situation.

The approach taken by those who produced “Cry Freedom” to choose Hollywood movie stars to represent the main characters can been seen as not only unethical but also an assertion of American cultural Imperialism. South African Apartheid is a serious issue, millions of people were oppressed and brutalized by their own government, and Hollywood made a movie to profit from a situation that arose from that. Although this sounds like the reasons one could assume the conclusion that American Imperialism was in fact being asserted in “Cry Freedom” they are not. It is not that Hollywood profited from making a movie about apartheid but rather that they actually Americanized the story that was being told. They did this by turning the issue of apartheid into a human-interest story that white Westerners would buy. The first step in that process was to find a true story about apartheid in South Africa where at least one of the main characters was white. From a marketing perspective the story of a white South African changing his ideology after meeting a charismatic black South African would probably sell the best. The reason this can be seen as an expression of American Imperialism is because the real story of apartheid is in the millions of poor, oppressed struggling black South Africans that are only in the story because they provide the conflict.

“Cry Freedom” told the story of a white man’s oppression in racist South Africa after he sacrificed his status to find justice for the murder of his black friend. As can be seen, rather than telling the story of apartheid Hollywood told the story that would sell and at the same time it can be attributed to focusing the west’s attention toward the horrible situation in South Africa. This conundrum of the truth being distorted into entertainment and still being an avenue for information is able to exist because we live in a culture where there is an intersection between entertainment and journalism. This phenomenon has created the media to focus on image related storing covering issues that were not traditionally thought of as news. The conflict between entertainment and journalism is a constant ethical consideration that repeats itself through many issues in mass media. Because of its position in the world the United States and the West in general, have a responsibility to inform their own citizens and the international community of news in both peaceful and violent and oppressive nations. However with this also comes with the ethical responsibilities of telling the story honestly and honoring the truth for the majority of victims, not the exception.

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