Can Hollywood figure out Gen Z? This summer's movies are a major test

Mark Olsen, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

"What's interesting to me is the distinction between the kind of glamorous cinema fantasy and this kind of iPhone reality," Dunham said. "But also life is more beautiful than anything that we can see on an iPhone. That beginning is what Taylour looks like to me dancing. If I'm in a room with Taylour and she's dancing, it feels that magical.

"The idea of being an influencer wasn't really even a career opportunity that existed to people my age, when I was that age," Dunham continued. "That you can kind of make a career out of being yourself, but also not really yourself, was compelling to me, because clearly I was doing a version of it. I just didn't know that at the time."

'It just reeks of inauthenticity'

It's of course not unusual for a generation to be skeptical, even adversarial, regarding those coming up behind them. The prospect of an end to job security, political power and cultural influence is enough to make anyone anxious. But there's something about the way the combined fears of boomers, Gen Xers and millennials collectively land on Gen Z that feels especially weighty.

"The older generations... might be afraid that we don't even understand what the culture is. We want to learn it, but we don't really feel it. And they live it. They think differently about male, female, they have a whole new way of looking at the world. They are very aware of climate change and all those sensitivities," said Reijn. "We wanted to be self-deprecating and full of humor, even though it's also very important. And the film itself is inclusive. Of course, at the same time, we're also making fun of that because they look like they're so giving and caring about others, but in the end, [those concerns] are also used in a narcissistic way."

"Whatever the youngest group of working people are doing has a sort of threatening component to it, like it's gonna wipe out everything that came before it. And I think we've learned that elder Hollywood can't be wiped out by anything," said Dunham. "I tend to just love the bravery and the guilelessness that comes with being young. So much of what I did as a young person, I couldn't have done if I'd had an awareness of how older people were looking at me or us."

Deutch understands why Gen Z is in turn skeptical of older generations attempting to speak its language, get its references and co-opt its attitudes in order to reach it through media and marketing.


"It just reeks of inauthenticity when people are trying to impress or understand Gen Z when they don't," she said.

"I really hope with all my heart that young people don't feel that we're making fun of them," said Reijn. "It's about human nature. In the end, it's not only about Gen Z."

While the filmmakers are all careful to say the audience for their movies is not limited to one generation, they also know who is likely to be be their harshest and most public critics. Armed with smartphones and social media, Gen Z will make their displeasure known quickly and clearly if they feel their onscreen depictions are inaccurate.

"If I know anything about Gen Z it's that they can smell any falsity or any little tiny cheugy thing from a million miles away," said Shephard. "Honestly, I think my use of the word cheugy is now cheugy. Someone's going to read this article and be like, 'That's last year's word.'"


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