The Global Academy Awards: Cultural Policy in Transnational Film

On film charts around the world, American movies routinely top the lists of most popular movies. This staggering lead in the global film industry is only one example of American dominance in contemporary media culture.  In “Cultural Globalization and the Dominance of the American Film Industry” Diana Crane examines why and how globalization perpetuates the U.S.’s role as a leading media distributor and producer, through the lens of the global film industry. 

The dominance of the American film industry can be attributed to economic and organizational factors, and to national film policies. For instance, a vast proportion of the talent and resources needed to create movies are concentrated in one U.S. city: Los Angeles. Hollywood studios’ average cost of production ($40 million) is remarkably higher than the three next most successful industries–British, French, and Egyptian–combined ($11.9 million), and on average fully one-third of this $40 million is budgeted for promotion and branding. 

Moreover, the U.S. ensures that national and international film policy works in its favor. For example, the 2005 UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expression created policies that protect nations’ various forms of cultural expression, including film. The U.S. government, however, refused to participate in the convention, and instead strategically initiated foreign trade agreements in more than 20 countries. These agreements altered other nations’ film policies by reducing their “quota”—a policy that had required a certain percentage of films in a nation’s market to have been produced domestically. This reduction means that more U.S. film exports are now able to be shown in other countries, and further contributes to the U.S. film industry’s already exceptionally far-reaching distribution system.

In addition to these factors, Crane argues that the content of American films also boosts the U.S. lead in the global film industry. Contemporary American films exude a “cultural odorlessness” that obscure their country of origin.  These films, which Crane describes as “transnational,” are built on universal themes of action, sex, and fantasy; are set in non-specific, often fictional locations; and incorporate multiple plots and character tropes that mimic stereotypes found in other cultures. In contrast to older U.S. films, which were accused of cultural imperialism due to their tendency to impose American values on international audiences, transnational films contain themes that are broad and unspecific.

The transnational elements in U.S. films make them relatable to a wide variety of audiences. Around the globe, non-U.S. films lacking this cultural odorlessness are typically not as successful as American films due in part to their cultural specificity. Although globalization has increased access to other cultures via media, Hollywood’s large production budgets, wide distribution systems, substantial impact on national film policy, and global content all conspire to maintain U.S. film dominance. 

Crane, Diana. 2014. “Cultural Globalization and the Dominance of the American Film Industry.” Journal of Cultural Policy, 20(4): 365-382. DOI: 10.1080/10286632.2013.832233

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