Down at the beach, every other trash can is wrapped in what suddenly seems an unnerving image, given the recent school shootings, including last week’s in Texas. There’s baby-faced Alden Ehrenreich, as Han Solo in Solo: A Star Wars Story from Lucsfilm and Disney, aiming squarely at the viewer with an outsized handgun (and it is exactly that, whatever fantasy blast it is presumed to emit in the latest installment of the sci-fi epic). Just below, a smiling Emilia Clark, as Qi’ra, clutches a double-barreled pistol. They are flanked by Joonas Suotamo, Chewbacca, who totes the space equivalent of an assault rifle, and wears a bandolier full of loads that will blow the lot of them to the next nebula if he takes a hit.
It’s all great, PG-13-rated fun, and we’re used to it. Movie violence is one thing. The real-life kind is another.
But Hollywood might do well to check its messaging in the face of fresh demands for new curbs on gun ownership, fed in no small part by activist celebrities like Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman.
In the current spring-summer season, every major studio is selling one or more films with posters, billboards, promotional photos or trailers featuring big guns. Warner led the way in April with Rampage, a PG-13 film in which Dwayne Johnson’s battle to save Chicago from animal mutants, involved heavy firepower (though our hero ultimately solved his problem with love and science). This weekend brings Deadpool 2 from Fox, with one of my favorite marketing images—a cartoon Ryan Reynolds, blasting away on the back of a unicorn, on a poster for the Imax version.
But don’t worry, its rated R. Still, kids don’t need a ticket to get the idea.
Columbia’s summer offerings include the R-rated Equalizer 2. Universal will have The First Purge. Paramount weighs in with Mission: Impossible-Fallout. At last check, the last two were still unrated. But anyone with an Internet connection can already see the gun fun in all three.
Again, anyone who suggests that film violence translates into real violence is over-simplifying a vastly complicated equation. A few years ago, my former New York Times colleague Brooks Barnes and I tried to illustrate that point by contrasting the violent entertainment and role-playing at San Diego’s Comic-con International with actual behavior. In San Diego, the level of municipal violence usually declines during the “weapons”-obsessed convention.
But anyone who doesn’t think parents and activists are poised for a fresh assault on Hollywood’s approach to screen violence is probably dreaming. Only last Monday, four days before the shootings at Santa Fe High School in Texas, the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania issued a call for a new, PG-15 violence rating, and bolstered it with a study being published in the journal Pediatrics.
That demand for tighter control of violent entertainment likely won’t be the last. And those who would like to avoid a replay of the almost-forgotten Senate hearing of 18 years ago, when stuttering and stammering film moguls were pounded, on-camera, by grand-standing politicians, might do well to clean up the gun imagery on those trash cans at the beach.