Do Social Media Stars Deserve Starring Roles?
Emma Thompson and Michael Caine made headlines earlier this week with their criticism of the, “new generation of social media actors” at a reception for the British Academy Award winners, hosted by the Prince of Wales. Thompson stated that, “we’re casting actors who have big followings so the studios can use their followings to sell their movie” and that, “the trend of hiring young stars because of their social media following is a disaster.” Caine echoed her sentiment, further lamenting that, “These days [they] just say I’m going to be an actor because I want to be rich and famous. And then they do a little part on television and everyone knows who they are. They can’t really act.”
Although the suggestion that before social media, people only got into the movie business for the “purity of art” feels like an oversimplification – there may be some validity to their perspective.
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Traditional Hollywood is changing. It is harder than ever to fill theater seats and with so many new shows for viewers to chose from, executives are seeking ways to embrace these changes. To stand out from the pack and stay relevant. It is undeniable that studio heads are looking to new media stars with the hope that their popularity will translate into ticket sales and viewership. From a business perspective this may seem like a brilliant way to capitalize on the power of social media, but the trend of casting someone based not on talent but on their social media following undermines a craft that so many of us have been cultivating for the majority of our lives.
However, it is a huge generalization to assume that all new media talent lacks, well, talent. With their statements, Thompson and Caine are overlooking the fact that some “new media stars” really do deserve success. Many YouTube celebrities are trained actors, utilizing YouTube and social media as a way to reach audiences outside the standard Hollywood system – a system which can be impossible to penetrate. Look at the success of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and it’s star Laura Spencer, who is now a series regular on two popular network shows – The Big Bang Theory and Bones. Did her work on The Lizzie Bennett Diaries open up doors for her? Absolutely. Does she deserve to be working in television? ABSOLUTELY.
The internet is full of people who are truly talented and business savvy. People who have been paying their dues while simultaneously cultivating their internet presence. That’s why, to me, it is so exciting to be working in the entertainment industry at this specific moment in time. We have the power and means to build a fanbase and hone our skills; preparing for the day when some mystery executive sees one of our videos and says “Yes. YOU.The girl with the silly voices. She is truly special.”
So yes. While casting someone based off of their social media reach can be risky, it isn’t necessarily wrong. It just shouldn’t be the only factor. First and foremost, the actor must be a good fit for the part. As long as that is the priority, looking to the internet can be a wonderful way to find talent.