02/27/2012 10:33 am ET Updated Apr 28, 2012

Why Hollywood Studios Don't Matter Anymore

I was recently part of a panel discussion on a New York TV show about diversity in films and entertainment. And someone brought up the story about George Lucas' complaint that Hollywood is racist because it wouldn't greenlight his film Red Tails.

The reason, he said, was that there wasn't a white lead actor in the story: not to tell the story, not to act as a sidekick to the main black actor.

And so the question arose: Does Hollywood discriminate?

To which the answer is a qualified yes: Yes, Hollywood discriminates. And it's disturbing to note that race and ethnicity still plays a part in commercial considerations.

But it may be even more alarming how much the Hollywood studios discriminate against intelligence and quality.

Indeed, it is safe to say, at this moment in the second decade of the 21st century, that Hollywood doesn't figure in the discussion about making films of quality. The studios are irrelevant in that arena. To them, quality is what happens by accident while they're playing it safe aiming for a mass audience.

Look at the list of studio movies that are set to come out this summer: The Avengers, a Spiderman reboot, Dark Shadows, Battleship, Men in Black 3, GI Joe: Retaliation, The Expendables 2, Total Recall. It's a fanboy's wet dream of remakes, sequels, comic-book movies, comic-book remakes, comic-book sequels and TV-show remakes. Did I miss any other kind of remakes and sequels?

The Hollywood studios don't matter anymore to serious movie lovers. They've given up on making anything but expensive tent-pole movies or genre exercises that come with stars and a restrained budget. Certainly, they'll dip a toe in the festival market and pluck the occasional piece of low-hanging fruit (although I'm hard-pressed to think of a recent case; it's always the specialty divisions, such as they are anymore).

This commentary continues on my website.