Storytelling is at the core of who we are, but who we are is varied and different. Our individual cultures significantly impact our lives, and, in turn, how we tell stories. Culture not only dictates what stories we tell but also how we tell them. How do storytelling techniques differ around the world? What do different countries value in their stories over others? Today I’m exploring how different countries use culture in film and television.
The Hollywood film market has the American hero story on lock, where the said hero rises up to fight a good fight, often in a huge action-packed comic book way. Following 9/11, the superhero movie became a Hollywood standard. In the past, superhero films were often quite campy, but they became darker, more complex, and rooted as realistically as possible post-9/11. These movies became so popular that today when we talk about heroes in films, Americans often think of superheroes such as Captain America or Iron Man.
It’s interesting to look at films in other countries and see what their film heroes are like. Often other countries opt for less physical and more moral forms of heroism. For example, “The Kings Speech” showcases King George VI stepping up and having courage against discouraging odds.
Culture profoundly impacts comedy and what we all perceive to be funny. What makes Americans chuckle might not earn a laugh with a South Korean audience. When you look at China’s box office history in recent years, big Hollywood action films often do exceptionally well, but American comedies rarely do. It’s China’s own locally made comedies that do best, signifying the critical relationship between comedy and culture.
Have you seen Disney’s live-action remake of “Mulan”? You’ll notice that nearly all of the comedic parts of the original animated feature have been stripped, and the story of the Chinese war-hero Mulan is much more serious. American humor probably wouldn’t have fared as well with the very important Chinese audience.
Aspiration and Escapism
Many outside of Nigeria don’t realize the country is home to a booming film industry. Nicknamed Nollywood, the film industry in Nigeria is the second largest employer after agriculture. Nollywood often produces comedies and dramas focused on interpersonal relationships; themes of marriage, conflicts with mothers-in-law, betrayal, and deception are often depicted. Despite overtaking India in 2018 in terms of the country with the highest number of people living in extreme poverty, newer Nollywood films often show the affluence of wealthy Nigerians, suggesting that escapism and aspirations of wealth are becoming significant themes within Nollywood’s movies.
Hollywood films have a reputation for being quickly cut, and they rarely linger on scenes. In fact, American screenwriters are taught to get into and out of a scene as quickly as possible! Meanwhile, films from other countries are often more slowly paced. Take the Mexican drama “Roma,” for example, a highly acclaimed movie, but a critique I’ve seen American critics make is that the pacing is slow, and scenes linger too long. Perhaps this difference in pacing preference is seen because here in America, time is money, and we want information immediately. At the same time, other cultures have different ways of communicating, and it shows in the pacing of their films.
Music and Dance
Where big Hollywood movies are often known for their action, Bollywood films are often known for their music and dance numbers. Why are music and dance so important to Bollywood films? There may be a couple of reasons for that. In the early days of Bollywood, the industry noticed that audiences yearned for music and dance in films, as they’d come to expect it from the theater performances they’d seen. Over the years, musical numbers have been utilized in Bollywood films to show intimacy between two characters, rather than showing a scene of a sexual nature. Today, it’s incredibly profitable for a Bollywood movie to have songs that become well-liked. The music can be a way to promote the film, and popular songs from Bollywood movies often become culturally significant, being played at weddings and celebrations.
While Hollywood often is considered the film capital of the world, it’s important to look at how other countries’ cultures impact their films and storytelling in general. Learning about the cultural impacts of storytelling can help you consider how your own culture affects your storytelling. The lessons learned from other cultures also provide an incredible well of ideas and inspiration.
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