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Behind the Screen and Off the Stage: Film and Television Representations of American Entertainment

The three-day virtual conference was hosted at London Metropolitan bringing a diverse and stimulating debate on movies and television shows set in the American entertainment industry, exploring how this has changed through the digital era

By Carolina Piras

Hollywood… who hasn’t dreamed of living in that world at least once?

Well, it can be more insidious and complex than we think.

The Media, Culture and Creative Technologies Research group, part of London Met’s School of Computing and Digital Media, hosted a three-day virtual conference from 11th to 13th of November 2021, exploring the history and significance of movies and television set in the world of America entertainment, as well as its changes through the digital era.

Convened by Dr Karen McNally, Reader in American Film, Television and Cultural History, Behind the Screen and Off the Stage: Film and Television Representations of American Wntertainment” brought together a variety of international scholars to discuss different approaches to the production and representation of American entertainment – behind the screen and off the stage – and looked at the changes of cinema during the advanced-technology era we live in.

Picture Credit: London Metropolitan University

The movies and television shows set in the world of American entertainment – on both the big and small screens – were the core of the debates at the conference, putting a particular emphasis on filmmaking screen narratives that have attempted to represent life behind the scenes of American entertainment on numerous occasions.

The movies at the centre of the panel discussion went from recent offerings such as the 2020 Oscar-candidate Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Fosse/Verdon (2019), to the oldest masterpieces, such as Show People (1928), All About Eve (1950), and Valley of the Dolls (1967).

But what is the common denominator of these movies? They differ from other types of film and television as they narrate the stories of fictional and real-life characters.

The panel brought a wide variety of opinions and approaches to the impact and significance of entertainment in American film, television and national culture, from the early cinema to the digital age.

Whether they are star biopic, rise-and-fall narratives or critiques of the business of show, these Hollywood products illuminate the joy and sorrow of the main character, showing the crisis and opportunities they encounter through their path, while also raising broader questions regarding the American entertainment industry and culture.

Picture Credit: Unsplash

Panel discussion: Hidden Hollywood

The fifth panel, which took place on the 12th of November, was hosted by Chair N.T. Binh, Independent Scholar and Positif, along with Elisenda Dìaz Garcés from the University of Barcelona, Dr Karen McNally from London Metropolitan University, and Desirée J. Garcia from Dartmouth College.

From the role of masculinity to the presence of abuse in Hollywood’s stardom narratives to the melancholy glamour to the queer entertainment biopic, Dr McNally defined all the topics that have been brought to the panel as “strictly linked to each other”.

Picture Credit: Noom Peerapong

Mariana Tenorio, 24, Film and Television Studies student at London Met, said she has been “enlighted and fascinated” by this panel in particular, found it “extremely engaging” and felt “inspired for her university projects” where she would soon like to explore in-depth the relationships between men – and so different types of masculinity – that are negotiated in the dressing room as well as how the homosociality emerges.

Elisenda Dìaz Garcés, from the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Research PhD Literary Theory and Gender Studies graduate points out that some activism movements made a massive change in the way genders are represented in digital era’s cinema.

Dìaz Garcés, which during the fifth panel led a discussion on ‘Fighting for Visibility in the Hollywood Star System: The Fading Star in Feud (2017)’, said: “For me is interesting the #MeToo movement and how this provoked a huge change, it makes me think that today we have more and more films that explore these kinds of life issues.”

Picture Credit: Anika Mikkelson

Dr McNally made a presentation called ‘Phantom Women: The Lingering Presence of Abuse in Hollywood’s Stardom Narratives’, which pointed out that right now the representation of women in the cinema of the digital era is “much more upfront” especially “thanks to the #MeToo movement”.

Phantom women are secondary and other minor female characters who ‘illuminate the inequalities, mistreatment and abuse inherent in the female experience of a male-dominated Hollywood…”, she said.

“Stardom films and backstudio pictures create a sometimes dim but significant space for these secondary female characters who take us to a thematic place that the protagonist and central narrative are sometimes more reluctant to go.”

Commenting on how the figure of the ‘phantom woman’ in Hollywood cinema has changed through the years, Dr McNally said: ‘I don’t think it’s as necessary and therefore not as prevalent now because those things are being looked at in relation to the protagonist rather than having to be hidden behind with a phantom woman…

“It’s upfront now since #metoo, so it can be centred around the central protagonist in more obvious ways and therefore the phantom woman is not as essential to illuminate that. But contemporary films and TV shows are certainly something to look at in comparison to what these phantom women do.”