2020 caused a lot of reflection, and in many cases that included petitions for change like with the Splash Mountain ride at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, which Disney decided to re-theme. HBO Max added a new introduction to Gone With the Wind following complaints, and earlier this year discussion began on banning Grease. Should we be censoring films based on current events? Monica Levinson, producer of Borat and Borat 2 has strong thoughts about this.
Filmmaking will always evolve, whether due to new technology, sheer creativity or something else, there will always be creators in the space finding new ways to do things. In the spirit of that, it makes sense that the industry would want to keep older projects intact as markers of progress over time. I chatted with Monica Levinson, who produced both Borat films and also worked on Zoolander, about her thoughts on making changes to a finished product. Here’s what she told CinemaBlend:
Everything does have a time and place. I mean, Zoolander came out right after 9/11 and we weren't sure how to handle that because the Twin Towers were in the movie. But it was coming out two weeks after 9/11 and a decision had to be made. Donald Trump is there with Melania, if he gets impeached, do we take them out of the movie? No. It's about a time and place. In general, movies are a slice of life. It's like the disclaimer put in front of Gone With The Wind. If you watch Gone With The Wind right now, it is a little disturbing to watch it through our country's eyes and see that portrayal, it is slightly disturbing. But I'm glad that it exists because it's a good reminder of filmmaking and how it's evolved. I'm happy that there's also a disclaimer. I'm okay with that. And Grease, that's one of my favorite movies. It's been inappropriate for a long time, and yet I still love it. Everything is a slice of life and I'm not expecting that every movie I make is going to live up to the test of time. If you do that, you'll be frozen because you just won't ever be able to make a movie as you try to analyze what's to come.
The honesty is refreshing, and a very important point for filmmakers. It’s often out of their hands when a project ultimately gets to be released, and it’s impossible to predict the future state of the world. As Monica Levinson stated, it’s about a place and time, and when presenting that slice of life to the world filmmakers remain accurate to the setting of the story. That being said, I won’t overlook the importance of adding disclaimers or trigger warnings where necessary. Sometimes the controversy around a film is what allows those involved to speak up about their experience and the more things are discussed, the more uncomfortable situations can be avoided in the future.
In addition to Borat Subsequent Moviefilm which is currently streaming on Amazon Prime, Monica Levinson has recently produced Wander Darkly, The Water Man, and Netflix’s The Trial of the Chicago 7. She is passionate about ensuring her projects have diverse cast and crews. Levinson is the executive producer behind the CW's recent television special, Women in Film Presents: Make It Work! The virtual fundraiser highlighted Women in Film's #HireHerBack initiative, calling for the employment of women, people of color, and underrepresented artists in the economic recovery during the pandemic.