Hollywood’s dependence on the yellow filter needs to die a gruesome death.
For some the yellow filter is a stylistic choice. It was meant to distinguish different spaces and different moods when it was first introduced into movies. Sometimes it was even used to emphasize that the movie happened during a hot summer. But it’s undeniable that it has evolved into a reductive and ignorant way to other people, communities, and countries. And in 2023, it’s a cliche used across genres and mediums, from old TV shows like Breaking Bad to even recent films in 2023 like Saw X.
And it’s not like I’ve always known this about the yellow light filter.
Back when I was a youngin, I was guilty of thinking that the yellow filter in Hollywood wasn’t a big deal. It was just a “stylistic choice” I kept telling myself. Or “people were making a big deal out of nothing just to complain.” Then I started watching Bollywood movies. It was a curiosity born out of public access channels airing some old Shahrukh Khan and Kajol movies. And while I enjoyed them greatly for the way they tore my heart out of my chest, the dancing, and the concept of family, it really opened my eyes to how dirty Hollywood does anybody who isn’t white.
Breaking Bad was guilty of the yellow light filter when they went to Mexico or the desert. The film Darjeeling Limited used it to depict scenes in India in rural areas. And even in 2020, Chris Hemsworth’s Extraction absolutely doused its action movie with a yellow filter so over the top that even those who previously denied that the yellow filter was a problem, absolutely saw it and went, “What the fuck?”
In each and every single one of these examples, it was used to show a different community other than Hollywood’s main market in the US being “other.” It was as if entering another world and Hollywood decided that they needed to make it distinct and like something that would never reach US consumers or touch them.
I think it goes back to the concept of escapism. Movies are a way to escape from the drudgery of day-to-day life. So Hollywood applies this yellow light filter to show that this is a place unlike the location of their main consumer market. But the matter of the fact is that the US is a very blended country. And these places like India or Mexico are not make-believe. They are real people in real countries. And some of those people just so happen to live in the United States. They also happen to watch these movies in the countries that you give a yellow light filter to. So when you go and make these other countries seem like another world, you end up dividing communities and stigmatizing whole countries by the stereotypes that consistently pop up when the yellow light filter is applied.
The inherent stereotypes born out of using the yellow light filter are the most harmful part of the yellow light filter and its use. I understand using the yellow light filter as a stylistic choice to emphasize it being a hot summer or different emotions. But when Hollywood applies it they use it to depict poverty, crime, nothingness, a lack of humanity, lawlessness, etc. So if you combine the yellow light filter making it seem like places like India or anywhere in Latin America are another world with a continued stereotypical narrative that they are poor and crime-riddled, you end up perpetuating racist narratives that hurt real people.
The latest example of using a yellow light filter to perpetuate everything that we’ve talked about so far is the Saw X movie. In it, the lead character goes to get a treatment and it doesn’t go as expected. So he uses his gruesome methods to enact revenge on the people there. Been there, done that. The problem starts when you place the movie in Mexico and then apply the yellow light filter.
This franchise has done some ridiculous things to some truly horrible people. And it’s never really mattered where you start from or if you have money. So it doesn’t make sense that they would use the yellow light filter in Mexico unless they were trying to make a point and continue to push a specific narrative of otherworldliness aimed at a US market. Combine that with the real-world problems at the US/Mexico border, and you’re left with this feeling of carelessness from Hollywood that they would perpetuate Mexico as another world or lawless enough where a white man has to come in and “serve justice” or whatever bullshit they’re pedaling.
In recent memory the only property that I know that has pushed away from that narrative of using a yellow light filter when in a country besides the US, Europe, or anywhere with a white majority, is Moon Knight. In it, the lead character ends up going to Egypt for a bunch of action-packed stuff that takes way too long to explain here and you should just watch it instead. Plus Oscar Isaac. But I remember the distinct shock from people from Egypt and surrounding communities who expected a yellow light filter and did not see one. They decided to go against the grain of the Hollywood machine othering communities. And instead, they honored those at the center of a truly amazing story.
This is why the yellow light filter needs to die a glorious and fiery death. And with the way that the average person has become aware of the power of their voice when it comes to fuckery by those who have gotten away with it for too long, Hollywood needs to watch out. That very market that you’re trying to sell movies to, will turn on you. And you’ll deserve it because of your continued use of a yellow light filter that no one wants or needs.