A word on violence against minorities in mass-media
About a week ago in an interview with Clémence Michallon for The Independent, action movie star Liam Neeson shared a very upsetting story: after learning that a friend was sexually assaulted by a black man, Neeson wandered around outside of bars hoping that a black person would pick a fight with him so that he could kill them. Neeson went on to say that he’s ashamed of having done this, but even though what he did was deeply problematic, it’s also very familiar.
An innocent is attacked by a minority or a group of minorities and a white man attempts to take revenge against them; that’s a very rough plot synopsis of Liam Neeson’s action-thriller Taken. This blatant demonization of minorities is also a very rough plot synopsis of a lot of other movies, TV shows and video games. It’s ludicrous how many of the villains in action movies or first-person shooters are people who we’ve marked as “others.” It’s also pretty dangerous.
Liam Neeson’s story isn’t one-of-a-kind. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, there were 7,151 reported hate crimes in 2017 and that number is only increasing. Violence is regularly inflicted on marginalized groups in the real world and the fictional ones that we read, watch and play. There’s a correlation between the two; I’m not saying that ingesting discriminatory content causes real-world violence, but they are closely related. Maybe watching less racist movies or playing less xenophobic games would mitigate racist or xenophobic violence, maybe it wouldn’t; either way, I want to advocate for consuming less-awful media.
However, by “less-awful,” I don’t mean nonviolent. I love watching action movies and fighting games provide endless hours of fun. I think what is being done on-screen matters less than who’s doing it and why. Shooting vaguely middle-eastern enemies in Call of Duty normalizes violence against middle-easterners. You’re not more likely to do it, but you’re probably more likely to accept it. Shooting Nazis in Call of Duty normalizes violence against Nazis and, well, I guess that’s not the worst thing in the world.
Liam Neeson’s Cold Pursuit is playing in theaters. Taken is probably on a streaming service or two. This weekend, if you’re in the mood to watch people fight each other (because honestly, who isn’t?), instead of watching those movies or others like them, why not watch an action movie that doesn’t glorify violence against a marginalized group? Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is still in some theaters, and Black Panther is streaming on Netflix. You can watch a person punch another person for unprejudiced reasons and feel comfortable knowing that you aren’t desensitizing yourself to hate crimes. Also, they’re just better movies.