10 controversial movies that sparked debates and discussions

Posted On
Posted By admin

Although it’s intended to entertain, cinema is always at its best when it can open the door to wide-ranging debate, discussion, and conversation over the events audiences have just witnessed on-screen. One of the finest factors of going to the movies is chewing the fat about the flick afterwards.

Sometimes those conversations aren’t the easiest ones to have, though, with plenty of features both fictional and documentarian exposing secrets, agendas, and incidents that had been swept under the rug. These efforts showcase cinema’s potential to enforce real change. As the write William S. Burroughs once said: “Artists to my mind are the real architects of change, and not the political legislators who implement change after the fact.”

A positive side effect is that movies can often be pivotal moments for increasing awareness for certain strands of society that go overlooked, unmentioned, or ignored, and the end result has regularly proven to be genuine change.

From Silenced to The Thin Blue Line, the following ten titles were each controversial in their own way, but the common thread is that the discourse to take over in the aftermath yielded tangible results that brought genuine change.

10 controversial movies that sparked discussion:

10. Silenced (Hwang Dong-hyuk, 2011)

A harrowing film inspired by true events, the outrage to greet Korean drama Silenced became so deafening that the country passed new legislation tied to the story at its core, such was the visceral reaction upon its release.

The haunting story finds a newly-hired teacher at a deaf children’s school discovering that the people in charge of the educational establishment have been sexually abusing the students for years, with the public up in arms over the way the movie relayed the lenient sentencing handed out for similar crimes.

As a result, a month after Silenced was unveiled to the world, the National Assembly of Korea passed a bill colloquially known as the Dogani law – named after the film’s native title – which abolished the statute of limitations for sex crimes committed against minors and the impaired.

[embedded content]

9. Scum (Alan Clarke, 1979)

The controversy surrounding the breakout role for a young Ray Winstone happened twice over, with the original television version of Scum being banned before it was shot again as a movie and released two years later.

An unflinching portrait of life inside a borstal, there was wide-ranging shock over the graphic scenes depicted throughout a troubling drama that had no interest in pulling any punches. However, there was a positive outcome, with the spotlight being shined brighter on the borstals than it had been in a long time.

It was never explicitly confirmed or denied to be a direct reaction, but it can’t be a coincidence that just three years later, the 1982 Criminal Justice Act got rid of the borstal system entirely in favour of the young offenders institutions that exist today.

[embedded content]

8. Philadelphia (Jonathan Demme, 1993)

With The Silence of the Lambs director Jonathan Demme at the helm and Tom Hanks in the leading role, Philadelphia played a huge part in opening the doors for the conversation surrounding the Aids epidemic to emerge from the realm of societal taboo.

Placing it at the forefront of the narrative, it was one of the first mainstream Hollywood movies to use the discussion too many people didn’t want to have as the backbone of its narrative, while it also portrayed gay characters in a positive light in what was unfortunately a rarity at the time.

When it cleared $200 million at the box office and won Hanks his first Oscar for ‘Best Actor’, the toxicity surrounding the discourse began to dissipate as empathy and sympathy gradually began to replace suspicion and fear as the focal points of a discussion too few were willing to engage beforehand.

[embedded content]

7. The Thin Blue Line (Errol Morris, 1988)

The single biggest overt criticism thrown at Errol Morris’ documentary came from filmmakers who took issue with using a dramatic re-enactment as the crux of a feature, but the questions asked by the film got people talking in other ways.

By going back through the case of Randall Dale Adams and the charge that saw him imprisoned for the murder of a police officer, The Thin Blue Line poked countless holes in the recorded version of events that had led to the conviction, leading directly to a retrial.

At the second time of asking and after more than a decade behind bars, Adams was acquitted and released, with the justice system taking both barrels from viewers left stunned by the way a documentarian had single-handedly saved a man’s life simply by asking some questions.

[embedded content]

6. Cuties (Maïmouna Doucouré, 2020)

Director Maïmouna Doucouré was placed in an unfortunate position by the Cuties controversy, most of which came from folks who’d only seen a poster and were completely oblivious as to what the movie was actually about.

Cuties was a coming-of-age story about a girl from a conservative Muslim family who joins a dance troupe, which somehow snowballed into the filmmaker receiving death threats at the same time online petitions demanded the film be removed from Netflix while thousands cancelled their subscriptions.

Representatives for Netflix were even called before Congress and indicted in Texas for “the lewd exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of a clothed or partially clothed child who was younger than 18 years of age” as things threatened to spiral out of control. It wasn’t her intention, but Doucouré had nonetheless become a key figure in the ongoing debate about film and television content potentially over-sexualising minors.

[embedded content]

5. Super Size Me (Morgan Spurlock, 2004)

There was a double-barrelled burst of contentiousness to greet Morgan Spurlock’s cinematic exposé of fast food, and only one of those barrels had anything to do with what went down on-screen.

Inevitably, questions were asked about the authenticity of the filmmaker’s scientific findings and whether or not he was embellishing to any extent, but that didn’t really matter when America’s reigning titans of processed food ended up taking swift action anyway.

None of the companies would acknowledge the Super Size Me effect, but there’s not a chance they started rolling out healthier options in the aftermath by chance.

[embedded content]

4. A Short Film About Killing (Krzysztof Kieślowski, 1988)

It sounds oxymoronic, but the complex simplicity of A Short Film About Killing generated so much controversy and conversation that Poland eventually altered longstanding legislation as a result.

One man strangles another in a seemingly motiveless crime, and as a result he’s sentenced to death for his crime. Two sides of the very same coin, A Short Film About Killing spotlighted the cyclical nature of one murder leading to another, and on and on it went.

Supporters of the death penalty were suitably furious, but putting the two killings side by side and exploring their similarities raised serious moral questions, with the country abolishing the death penalty a decade later.

[embedded content]

3. Victim (Basil Dearden, 1961)

Running afoul of both the British Board of Film Classification and the American Motion Picture Production Code, Basil Dearden’s Victim comfortably offset any negativity surrounding its content by becoming a landmark moment for LGBTQ+ representation in cinema.

Released at a time when homosexuality was still prosecutable, the film exposed the practice of how blackmailing closeted gay men was common practice, with Dirk Bogarde’s barrister Mel Farr in danger of having his name and reputation destroyed as a result.

One of the first movies to empathise with a gay character, the discussions born from Victim played a huge part in helping shift the perception of homosexuality in the United Kingdom, with the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 decriminalising it soon after, and Bogarde even received a thank you letter from the Earl of Arran, who led the legislative fight.

[embedded content]

2. A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971)

Stanley Kubrick was so aghast with the discourse surrounding A Clockwork Orange that he pulled it from circulation in the United Kingdom himself, and it would stay that way until after his death in 1999.

After being implicated by name in more than one murder, the literary adaptation became a focal point for conversations regarding the impact fictional media can have on society’s more impressionable members.

That’s not to say a movie can be blamed for one person killing another, but when perpetrators were pointing to A Clockwork Orange as an inspiration behind their crimes, it was a debate that was inevitably going to be had.

[embedded content]

1. Blackfish (Gabriela Cowperthwaite, 2013)

Not many could have been under the impression that orcas were living a life of luxury in captivity, but Blackfish brought the uncomfortable reality to the fore, with the movie instigating real change.

SeaWorld was instantly the subject of a boycott, the theme park chain’s reputation was completely annihilated, the share price plummeted, and the deaths of three trainers at the hands of one of the animals were reappraised in a different light when the mistreatment was laid bare.

Animal cruelty hasn’t gone away, but Blackfish played a huge part in pushing it towards the top of the agenda after deservedly dragging a multi-billion dollar operation through the mud.

[embedded content]

Related Topics

Related Post