Film as Propaganda: What's the Problem?

Film as Propaganda: What's the Problem?

Propaganda is a dirty word. But what if we turned it on its head? Historically, film as a kind of propaganda has been stigmatised by images of Nazi regimes and of misleading its audience. Negative connotations aside, what if we view it as a means of simply having an impact?

In an increasingly digital age fuelled by fake news and skewed politics, it has never been more important to reflect on how greatly film can affect our lives for the better.

Take ‘Their Finest’, Lone Scherfig’s recent film, as an example. It tells the story of the British Ministry of Information’s attempt to boost morale during World War Two. Their method? A movie. And it’s food for thought. During the film, one character comments that he makes movies because “it isn’t like real life”. Where reality can be challenging and unpredictable, stories offer form and structure. They also promote escapism and a chance to dream. A promise of a better life perhaps, or a moment to reflect on the past and future opportunities. It’s powerful stuff, the notion of dreaming. And it’s tempting to cast this aside in fear of detracting from reality. But look at the success of

It’s powerful stuff, the notion of dreaming. And it’s tempting to cast this aside in fear of detracting from reality. But look at the success of Damien Chazelle’s Oscar-winning ‘La La Land’ – audience members praised it because it took them back to the ‘Golden Age of Hollywood’ and quite literally put a spring in their steps. Why should this be a bad thing?

From a historical viewpoint however, film as propaganda has been given bad press largely because of its association with figures such as Joseph Goebbels, the media spearhead behind Hitler’s Nazi machine. Despite labelling film as a way to provide ‘entertainment’, their ultimate goal was to distract the audience from the atrocities being committed on the home front. But we can’t tar all films from this angle with the same brush. Look at ‘Night Shift’ for example; one of Britain’s short productions about female munitions workers which was created in 1942 to rally support for the war effort. Though perhaps biased in its intentions, it promoted women’s work and demonstrates the power of film when used in a more, shall we say, honourable way.

Today, we live in a digital world where streaming services have made content more accessible than ever. We are used to instant gratification. Channels like Hulu and YouTube are aiming to streamline the ways their audience can watch shows. Netflix offers downloadable programmes now. Even social media has been trying to catch on with some production companies making short films fit for Instagram. But here’s the catch: with great choice, comes great responsibility. In a society where politics are changing like they’re going out of fashion and reality shows are rife, it’s important we reflect on our sources of information and ways to be entertained.

Ultimately all artworks are versions of propaganda. It’s how we use them that is important. Gone are the days of being told what to watch, when to watch it. We pick our own entertainment. And if you make the right choices, the benefits are wonderful. Ever watched a television show or film that has made you stop in your tracks for five minutes? Be it to reconsider a relationship, feel less alone or simply get some encouragement? Me too. And it’s not something that should be taken for granted. I’m not ashamed to admit that one of my favourite films is Tom Cruise’s ‘Cocktail’. It makes me smile and helps me escape to the beach for a breather. Where’s the harm in that?


Written by Georgina Grier,


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