Hollywood: Chronicle of an Empire

We examine the dominance of the US entertainment industry and its power to shape perceptions about culture and society.

“Entertainment is part of our American diplomacy,” US President Barack Obama told a crowd last year at a DreamWorks Animation facility. In 2013, it was the Hollywood production Iron Man 3 that made the biggest splash globally, bringing in over $1bn at the box office. In fact, the top 500 grossing films of all time are Hollywood productions.

Hollywood has increasingly made huge inroads into other countries’ box office markets with its blockbusters and studio investments. While countries like China limit the number of foreign films that can be shown at theatres annually, and other countries rely on government assistance to buoy local industries and counter Hollywood’s influence, the US still finds a way to woo non-American audiences.

But at a time when Hollywood’s global reach has never been greater, and as it rakes in millions of dollars each year, what does the dominance of the US entertainment industry say about its power to shape perceptions about society, culture and history? And does this economic and diplomatic might make Hollywood a chronicle of American power?

Empire heads to California to speak to leading directors, producers, film critics and cinema historians to decipher how Hollywood interacts with and affects the rest of the world.

We examine how Hollywood films tackle reality and shape historical events, often walking a tightrope between fact and fiction, and ask whether it is for the better or the worse. And we analyse how, if American cinema is considered a diplomatic tool, what it communicates to the rest of the world about the US and how it wields power.

We speak to industry insiders and learn what strategic commercial and cultural considerations are being made in Hollywood today. We seek views from key players in Bollywood, another powerful industry, and speak to filmmakers in France about the state of French cinema and how it is perceived vis-a-vis the cultural invasion or dominance of American films.