Indie movies break down casting barriers and showcase progressiveness in films

October 30, 2019 — by Selena Liu

In recent years, indie movies have been on the rise. For those who don’t know, indie movies, or “independent” movies, are films made by directors and producers not associated with a mainstream Hollywood film company. While indie movies are not typically advertised widely or played in every theater, many indie movies and companies have gained notable popularity over the years.

A couple of indie films popular in the late 1900s have made movie history. Audiences have screamed their brains out over indie thriller “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974) and glued their eyes to the television watching indie crime drama “Pulp Fiction” (1994). Since then, indie movies have increased their quality of production, and some indie companies have also made a name for themselves in the industry.

Founded in 2012 and based in New York, independent film company A24 has produced multiple films that have received rave reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb. Some of their most popular movies include sci-fi movie “High Life” (2019) and  crime film “Spring Breakers” (2012), which starred many major actresses and celebrities, including Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez and Ashley Benson.

In addition to their rising popularity, many indie films break racial barriers typically not transcended by mainstream Hollywood films. A24’s recent comedy-drama film “The Farewell” (2019) stars Asian-American actress Awkwafina in a movie about Chinese family, tradition and culture. Another groundbreakingly popular film about Asian-American culture, “Crazy Rich Asians,” was made by indie production company Color Force. Mainstream Hollywood has hardly touched these racial barriers⁠ — most Hollywood films only include actors of Asian ethnicity in their films for the sake of a token diverse character, and most of these actors never snag a leading role anyway. 

The same is true for African-American actors. Indie producers have been documenting black history through film since the 1900s, a notable example being “Nothing but a Man” (1964) — a Deep South drama detailing the black struggle for civil rights. In more recent years, indie drama-comedies like “Blindspotting” (2018) explore African-American racial tensions and gentrification.

On top of that, many minority actors are also usually paid less than their white counterparts. According to a study by Darnell Hunt, director of UCLA’s Bunche Center of African American Studies, black actors in Hollywood are paid nearly half the salary of a white actor who could play the same role; while the average A-list white actor could make $15 million in a top-budget film, an African-American actor with the same role would only earn $7.5 million. 

Tufayel Ahmed from Newsweek also critiques this drastic difference in salary.

“Look at the lower-end of the totem pole and a pattern emerges: Many of the actors are minorities, and oddly, many of the names have earned critical acclaim for their roles, but their pay doesn't seem to be commensurate with their cultural impact,” Ahmed wrote.

Indie production companies gives films a flexibility in casting and production that mainstream Hollywood often does not allow. As a result, indie productions are able to explore a wider range of topics and hire a more diverse cast of actors, which often makes them worth watching over mainstream Hollywood movies.

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