January 28, 2023
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ColumnsPopped Culture

Column: Cinema experiences social media influencer takeover

With the release of “He’s All That, starring social media influencer Addison Rae, and her subsequent multi-film deal with Netflix, I can’t help but wonder if TikTok is unofficially serving as the number one casting agency for producers. 

Casting media personalities is not new for the film industry. Initially, when it came to actors running the risk of losing their jobs to those who were inexperienced, it was models snatching up roles. We all remember the iconic performances of Paris Hilton in “Zoolander” and Heidi Klum in “Ella Enchanted,” in which both of them truly proved their talents at playing shallow and unbelievable characters. 

Models slowly gave way to internet personalities, most prominently stars from Vine and YouTube. To name some of the most popular, you have Flula Borg, a German YouTuber in “Pitch Perfect 2” and “The Suicide Squad.” Anna Akana, another YouTuber was in “Ant Man,” and Vine star King Bach was in “The Babysitter.” Lastly, Vine and Instagram personality Cameron Dallas starred in “Expelled.”

Now, we have the influencer, coming from Instagram and TikTok and traveling through a pipeline to Hollywood by filling mainstream roles. Rae for instance, is an influencer with 84.2 million followers on TikTok. 

In earlier renditions of media personalities being cast in films, their appearance did not minimize the quality of the film, even if the performance was subpar. 

Jump forward roughly 13 years and you see films like “Expelled,” where the only thing making the project salvageable and therefore marketable is the prominence of the influencer cast in the leading role. The only notable and consistent element of this project is Dallas’ phoned-in acting. When Dallas was cast in “Expelled” he had 6.1 million followers on Vine and millions of followers on Instagram. 

For producers, it makes a lot of sense to hire an influencer. They are a “talent” with a built-in following in the millions, regardless of how abysmal their actual talent is. However fiscally reasonable casting influencers is, it results in fewer, well-deserving actors from being discovered. 

The casting of untrained pseudo-celebrities is leading to an increase in projects that are commercially successful, yet trashy. “He’s All That” held a slot on Netflix’s category of Top 10 in the U.S. Today for a week — although who really knows how accurate Netflix’s self-made promotional feature is. 

It is undeniable that despite their poor quality, there is an audience for these projects. Producers know that viewers tune in either to watch the social media star that they love or to see the star they love to hate. This has led to low amounts of energy being put into these films because the executives on the project know people will watch regardless of quality —  if you disagree please watch “He’s All That” and then get back to me. 

In cinema, there is an unspoken rule that viewers will have different expectations of films of different genres. You wouldn’t go into watching romantic comedies with the same expectations as if you were going to see sciencefiction. Since it is clear these influencer projects are not going away anytime soon, should we start changing our expectations for them?       

Viewers accept the current low quality of these trashy influencer films. But because of this, Netflix has no incentive to improve the quality of influencer movies, because of these million-dollar, builtin audiences.

What can be done about the influencer-to-actor-pipeline, I’m not sure. Maybe question if giving social media stars a like or a follow just to continue to see what controversy will happen next is worth it; especially if it means they then have an increased likelihood of starring in a Netflix Original. Regardless, this pipeline isn’t slowing down any time soon. So if you’re an aspiring actor, let this be the push you need to start twerking on TikTok to guarantee your path to stardom as we watch the film industry progress even further away from being a form of art.