Cinema, by and for

What I have to say now isn’t so much my opinion as it is a question. And at a time when I could write about the pandemic or civil unrest, my question must seem like a trivial one. But in my opinion the question is broader than it seems at first, and it’s one that I’ve wondered many times as an American who’s lived in Europe: don’t Europeans want more of their own movies and TV shows? 

The question may seem insulting, as if Europeans produced no TV shows or movies of their own. Obviously, they do. But first, a couple of numbers to contextualize the question. While the United States does not produce the most movies annually (India, Nigeria, China and Japan produce more), the box office draw from our industry is easily the largest at about $11 billion per year. China comes in a close second at $9 billion per year, but a distinction should be made here: about 90% of our ticket sales come from American movies. About 60% of Chinese tickets sales come from Chinese movies. This means that Americans consume almost exclusively American content – and the rest of the world consumes a lot of it, too. More to my point, here’s the proportion of Italian tickets sales from Italian movies: 18%. 

Spain, 17%. Germany, 26%. France, 36%. And so on. 

Economically speaking it makes sense that some countries specialize in producing some goods more than others do. Brazil produces a lot of oranges and Finland does not. But there really isn’t any natural constraint to physically producing something that is conceived in someone’s imagination. I believe what I’m getting at is broader than it appears because it is not a question of Hollywood’s robust infrastructure for churning out products as if on an assembly-line but rather one, I believe, of national identity. 

Take Italy for example. Italy is a country that over the past millennium has contributed so much art that it’s needless to produce an example. I just need to wonder aloud: how is it that the country that gave birth to De Sica, Fellini and the regista of your choosing now produces comparatively so little by way of cinema? Now, an Italian could immediately point to the shows that Italy does produce. I’m not denying their existence. But I still think the point stands: anywhere in Europe you can see a re-run of The Simpsons, How I Met Your Mother, Two and a half Men, Community, Big Bang Theory, South Park, Bobs Burgers… The list goes on, and the point stands: America imports practically nothing, and exports an ungodly amount of content. 

From what I gather through conversation, American TV shows are good. And, indeed, the production quality is always high, regardless of the quality of writing, and we produce so many that it’s easy to choose. I also imagine that 99% of what’s filmed is easily translatable to just about anybody in the modern world. What’s the difference, really, between an American high-school and an Italian high-school? The social spheres should be concentric, and an American watching Baby will not fail to comprehend it, so what difference does the nationality make? 

In my opinion, it makes a subtle but important one. They say that history is written by the victor, and I feel slightly uneasy about America winning what might be an invisible culture war. Attitudes matter a great deal – the body follows the mind as the cart follows the ox. How I Met Your Mother may translate easily enough, but should it be consumed more in, say, Denmark than a given Danish production? 

Although Baby may simply be one high-school drama among many, I enjoy that it is Italian and not American. I personally read into its nationality, and enjoy that its emotional texture is different from one of ours, and so I’d like to see more like it.

I say all this at the risk of sounding presumptuous, and I may be projecting my own feelings onto a broad subject, where it doesn’t belong. So, I’ll end with a couple of question to you, the reader. Do you want to see more movies and TV produced by and for your own compatriots, and what would you like to see?