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Why Hollywood Needs to Move On From Biopics

They are tiring and it’s getting worse.

Bohemian Rhapsody is a polarising biopic on the life of Freddie Mercury. Silvi Photo / Shutterstock

Life inspires art but when it comes to biopics, a great life is used as a substitute for good art. Naturally, film is subjective and people have different expectations of what makes a film “good”. A biopic could draw audiences because it portrays a person perfectly. The actor could have nailed the accent, body language and mannerisms. However, some people could find this monotonous. Biopics that take experimental approaches to a person’s life or satire could be helmed “good” even if it is not accurate to life. 

What I mean when I say that Hollywood needs to move on is that the saturation of biopics leads to a sacrifice of creativity. While it could take an experimental approach, how original can a biopic be if it has to follow a blueprint of someone’s life? The very basis of the genre involves a limitation. This is made even worse by people retelling the same few stories say, Napoleon, Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana. Biographies generate buzz based on their subject and not the artistry. Hollywood is a turbulent place so it may seem like a safe option. However, it’s making film boring.

Artistic integrity

Eddie Redmayne starred as Stephen Hawking in ‘The Theory of Everything’. Image Credit: Terry Straehley / Shutterstock

It’s nice to think that people create films because they were deeply inspired by a person, thought, event or philosophy. It’s even nicer when these films are rewarded during awards season. Viewers’ joy is in when these events happen organically. The thing with biopics is that they’ve become too much of a staple nomination in the Oscars, Golden Globes, Emmy etc. The genre is synonymous with oscar bait. This makes it feel like filmmakers were inspired by the profits (monetary or physical awards) rather than an idea.

One can’t place the blame on them entirely because they work under an unstable system. For marketers and promoters, biopics are easier to generate buzz for. Audiences already have an image of the subject in their mind; familiarity helps. It’s easier to tap into viewer psychology. These often star A-lister actors, a renowned music composer and director. Think ‘A Theory of Everything’, ‘A Beautiful Mind’, ‘Spencer’ and more. The reliance on sensationalisation carries a lot of these films.

External Influences

With biopics, it is never about the movie itself which compromises its artistry. Take ‘Saving Mr. Banks’, a biopic on Walt Disney by Disney. Many netizens felt that due to its production house, writers were never going to show the less-than-perfect side of their creator who has been accused of antisemitism and racism. The main character, played by Tom Hanks added to the optimism of the film. It’s scary to think about how movies glorify their main character and cement their public perception as such because of the scale of their audience.

Biopics both are influenced and can influence. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, a biopic on Freddie Mercury and Queen was accused of romanticising drug abuse. Similarly, critics considered ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’s constant portrayal of Jordan Belfort’s use of drugs and alcohol a glorification of the same. These are portrayed when not relevant to the story or are made relevant to create a shock factor. Many felt that just focusing on Queen’s Live Aid concert or Mercury’s connection to the AIDS epidemic would have made a more nuanced film.

Leonardo DiCaprio in a still from ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’. Image Credit: Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock

The nature of the genre

Biopics are hard to watch because it’s difficult to reconcile the fact that a person’s life can be represented in a rectangular frame in two hours.

The main problem with biopics is that they simplify real people. A real three-dimensional story is being forcefully put into a two-dimensional medium. 

Annika Duda, Title Magazine

Also, it involves choosing which parts of our lives are more screen worthy than others. This makes it seem as if certain events are more valuable based on what a story demands. Film wields influence and when it redoes a person’s life without any input from their side, it becomes an unfair medium. These subjects, often dead, have the many traumatic events of their life rehashed for years for others to make a profit off of it. While it can’t be said that there are no good biopics, the matter remains that Hollywood is an uncomfortable space to make them. Filmmakers need to explore original stories instead.

Written By

Hi! I'm a lover of stories, reveller in the night and you can usually find me dreaming about my film photos coming back from the lab. I'm exciting to write Lifestyle and Culture stories for Trill and hope you enjoy the content :)

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