Is globalization making the world more homogenous? And if so, does Hollywood share the blame?
This summer, my studio's "Spider-Man 3" became one of the biggest movies of all time, thanks to its world-wide "web" of box-office success, so it may seem strange for me to say this. But I believe that the global economy in general -- and the entertainment business in particular -- is absolutely not turning the world into an American shopping mall.
Instead of creating a single, boring global village, the forces of globalization are actually encouraging the proliferation of cultural diversity. Prominent critics like Thomas Friedman disagree. In "The Lexus and the Olive Tree" he argued that globalization "has its own dominant culture, which is why it tends to be homogenizing . . . Culturally speaking, globalization is largely, though not entirely, the spread of Americanization -- from Big Macs to iMacs to Mickey Mouse -- on a global scale."
Yes, it is true that certain products have world-wide reach and appeal. But it is not true that local culture is quashed in the process. Consider that from Germany and France to India and Japan, more than half the theatrical box office is made up of films produced in those lands, in their own languages.
People everywhere like Spider-Man or Disney's Jack Sparrow. A recent Pew poll discovered a "strong appetite" for American cultural exports. But citizens of other countries also like their own heroes and villains, actors and directors. They want to see stories, stars and issues that relate to their own societies and are portrayed and examined in their own languages. That's why, in recent years, we have seen an explosion of creativity from outside Hollywood.
In response to such clear preferences on the part of audiences throughout the world, several major Hollywood studios have created and expanded local-language film production businesses. Our studio is working with directors and actors in China, India, Mexico, Spain and Russia to make movies for release in each of those markets and, on occasion, internationally as well.
That's what we did with Chinese movies like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Kung Fu Hustle," which together grossed close to a third of a billion dollars at the world-wide box office. Our first Bollywood film, "Saawariya," directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, will be released this November in India and throughout the global Indian diaspora.
The same kind of trend is evident with television. When I was growing up in Holland in the late 1960s and 1970s, everyone was watching shows like "The Dukes of Hazzard," "Police Woman," and "Peyton Place." Nowadays, people there are tuning into home-grown detective shows like "Baantjer" and "Grijpstra & de Gier."
Today, major Hollywood studios are also involved in making international variations of old American shows such as "The Nanny" and "Married with Children," adapting the stories to each country's culture and using talent from each land in the starring roles. Sony Pictures is producing original TV series in Chile, Germany, Italy, Russia and Spain.
We're also beginning to see television programs that began somewhere else in the world migrate to America's shores. There's a longer tradition with shows in England being remade in America, such as "All in the Family." But more recently, we saw "Ugly Betty" become a hit on ABC after it first came out as a Colombian telenovela called "Yo Soy Betty, la fea."
These are not signs of Hollywood's homogenizing effect on the world. They are signs of the world changing the way Hollywood works. It makes sense to marry our production, marketing and distribution experience with the growing global appetite for entertainment tailor-made by and for a variety of cultures.
So if what can be seen in the cinemas and on television screens from Bangalore to Barcelona these days is any indication, globalization does not mean homogeneity. It means heterogeneity.
Instead of one voice, there are many. Instead of fewer choices, there are more. And instead of a uniform, Americanized world, there remains a rich and dizzying array of cultures, all of them allowing thousands of movies and televisions shows to bloom.
Audiences around the world are applauding this explosion of home-grown content, because for them, Hollywood is not simply a place in Southern California. It is a symbol of an entertainment culture which is becoming as diverse as it is universal.