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8 Movies That Changed The World

Culture October 2, 2017 By Hugo

All visual mediums have, at some point or other, changed the world. Michael Buerk’s BBC news reports on the famine in Ethiopia led to Live Aid. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver's impassioned documentaries about the lack of healthy food in state schools quickly forced both the British and American Governments to re-assess and improve the quality of state-school produce, and as these famous films demonstrate, cinema is no different.

Roger Kastel, via Wikimedia Commons

Indeed, many films tackle controversial subject matters that leave us questioning social norms and entertaining new perspectives. Even a summer blockbuster can leave us with many talking points to mull over.

Here, we chronicle eight films that, for better or worse, changed the world.

1. The Birth of a Nation (1915)

Set amidst the racial infighting that characterised the American civil war, the silent DW Griffith film chronicled two families, the Camerons in the South and the Stonemans from the North.

After the North wins, one of the Cameron sons becomes the leader of the Ku Klux Klan. In perhaps the film's most famous scene, the Cameron family is being attacked by black soldiers but are heroically rescued by Klan members. As such, the KKK, which had almost been disbanded in 1869, revived and by 1920, only 5 years after its release, its membership rose to 4 million. 

This is a film Tinseltown, while often celebrating the feats of a director known as 'The Inventor of Hollywood', would be keen to forget.

2. Jaws (1976)

Jaws impacted the world of cinema because its immense success helped spawn the blockbuster phenomenon. What's more, it made Hollywood marketers savvier by playing on the idea of “want to see” – the idea that most of us, who are often of a curious deposition, want to see a great white shark attack a human being. 

3. Male and Female (1919)

If you think of Hollywood, then the word 'celebrity' was probably a word that sprung to mind. And though the gender-pay gap in Hollywood persists, many female actresses who worked in the so-called 'Golden Years' of Hollywood changed women's inner lives for the better. Gloria Swanson was one such example.

She may not have changed the world on her own, but she did seem to reach out to the many domesticated women who lived in suburban bubbles, looking out in a world so expensive, yet so contained. 

Most rarely ventured far from their homes, but when the groundbreaking Male and Female came out, women across America flocked to the screens. Swanson, who played Lady Mary Lasenby, was an adventurous, and sassy lady. She travelled freely and indulged in vices that were almost unheard of for any respecting female to partake in. 

In doing so, Swanson, with the help of the director  Cecil b Demille, gave rise to the more empowered woman- a woman who wasn't afraid to be smart, beautiful and talented and live out their explorer instincts. It was pictures like Male and Female that changed women’s social lives for the better.

4. Repentance (1984)

Tengiz Abuladze's movie about a deceased dictator whose body is always dug up by a woman because she does not want people to forget his crimes had a significant impact on the President of Georgia, Edvard Shevardnadze. After he saw the film, he showed it to Mikhail Gorbachev.  Both viewed it as a compelling fable about the importance of never forgetting past injustices.

After watching it, Shevardnadze and Gorbachev had it broadcast across the Soviet Union in the 1980s. A massive success, it helped lay the foundations for the political movement which became known as Perestroika.

5. A Short Film About Killing (1988)

This Polish film centred around a young and aimless man called Jacek who hires a taxi before murdering the driver. A year later Jacek is in court. However, it is revealed that he accidentally caused the death of his sister. Found guilty of the murder, he is sentenced to death. 

Moving as it is raw, the powerful film, which takes a stark look at the lives of those who commit the unthinkable, ultimately led to the repeal of the capital punishment in Poland.

6. Heshang (1988)

China has a long and chequered history, and you can see why when watching the 1988 documentary film, Heshang. Its main argument was that China was not cosmopolitan enough or open to reform and a move away from the Asian values they hold dear. Because it spoke the truth, it captivated the minds of millions. 

As a result, campaigners took to the streets, including in Tiananmen Square, which led one man, known only as the 'Tiananmen Square Tank Man' to step in front of the tanks. The photo is seen by many as the most famous protest photo of all time.

7. Mclibel (2005)

When gardener Helen Steel and mail carrier Dave Morris represented themselves in court after fast-food chain McDonald's accused them of libel for circulating pamphlets accusing McDonald's of being responsible for third world hunger, as well as a host of other defamatory practices; a 2005 documentary followed their journey. 

David and Goliath-like in its depiction of the events, Morris and Steel famously won in the European Court of Human Rights. As a result, McDonald's pulled any advertising placed within proximity to schools. 

8. The Triumph of the Will (1935)

Like America's infamous 1915 film, 'The Birth of a Nation', it would be nice to ignore 'The Triumph of the Will'.

Yet Riefenstahl's homage to her hero Adolf Hitler made for a racist and xenophobic movie that unfortunately played a key role in getting the nation behind history's most infamous dictator.


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