Film is arguably the most accessible art form, disseminating across the world, even to places where American entertainment is supposed to be banned. These films help spread American ideas, values, and culture.
Therefore, it’s no secret the world is obsessed with Hollywood and with Hollywood stars. But does Hollywood also have the power to make lasting change in society, especially on a government policy level?
While governments are frequently the subject of many feature films, we only have a limited understanding on how government’s portrayal on films affects audience’s perceptions of political ideology.
A study was done which looked at the impact of two recent films, Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, on how viewers’ perceive government. The researchers found many of the study participants’ views changed after viewing the two films, by having a more positive view of how governments are run
The study shows what has been known by politicians and law makers for a long time: film has the power to shape perceptions of moviegoers on a range of subjects from war, society, romance, and the government.
For this study, sixty-nine students watched one of the two films, and completed a questionnaire before and after the screening. First, viewers were asked about their impressions of their government. About half of the viewers, prior to watching one of the films, thought the government was going in the wrong direction whereas after watching, there were a shift in their thinking.
This dramatic change as a result of watching a fictional film is extremely interesting. Given the current political divide and climate, attitudes about American policy, it is not. The study showed 22 percent of viewers changed their opinion after the movie about the United States, whereas 76 percent of the viewership did not change.
Donald Trump knew the power of film to influence viewers. He rented out an Iowa theater to screen the Benghazi film 13 Hours for his supporters for free. Although the director, Michael Bay, has insisted his film wasn’t political or wasn’t meant specifically to criticize the Democratic government, especially Hilary Clinton who was then Secretary of State, the film did hit on some contentious issues. Trump obviously hoped that the film would influence voters to turn against the Democratic party and vote for him. How influential the screening of the film was is hard to say, however the numbers don’t lie as Trump beat out Clinton by a vote of 51% to 41.7%.
While films have been used for political purposes ever since they first were invented – Birth of a Nation comes instantly to mind which was properganda about the Ku Klux Klan – it’s never before been measured how much influence a couple of viewing hours can have on a person until now. Perhaps with so much money being spent on politics and how divided we have become, it wouldn’t be surprising if we see more political charged movies being green lighted.
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