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Scott DeRue
Leadership professor

Scott DeRue

Scott DeRue is Assistant Professor of Management and Organizations at the University of Michigan Stephen M. Ross School of Business. With Maxim Sytch, he created the student-driven Leadership Seminar discussion group.

Where is she taking us?

Q: 'The Hurt Locker,' Kathryn Bigelow's Iraq war movie, won great reviews and the Oscar for best picture but has failed to draw large audiences, joining other 2009 critically acclaimed films such as 'The Messenger.' What are the challenges for artists who try to use their art to lead the public on a divisive political issue?

I have two reactions to the notion of Bigelow's film being held up as an artist trying to "lead" the public on a divisive political issue.

First, to answer the question, the major challenge for any artist such as Bigelow is securing the support, sponsorship and financial backing of a major studio. The film is provocative, thought-provoking, and for many, divisive. As a result, the studios are hesitant to put large sums of money into marketing the film. Compared to a film such as 'Avatar,' which certainly included a political message, the political leanings of Bigelow were much more front and center in 'Hurt Locker.' Year in and year out, the major studios are hesitant to support such films--likely for fear of coming down on one side of a divisive issue. Their goal is to fill seats and generate profits, not make a statement.

Second, and this is my own bias, but I do not think art such as film or music is in any way a reflection of leadership. The most common definitions of leadership go something like this: "a process of influencing people, structures and processes in service of and toward the accomplishment of a collective goal." If we accept that definition for a moment, in what way is 'Hurt Locker' an exemplar of leadership? The film is certainly trying to influence the thoughts and maybe even actions of movie-goers. However, what is the collective goal? I am not sure.

Influence without a collective goal is simply influence or maybe even coercion, but certainly not leadership. 'Hurt Locker' is a wonderful example of an artist using her medium of choice, in this case film, to exhibit the beauty of free speech. The film was well done, the writing was masterful, and it was a thought-provoking film. But, to embody the character of leadership, it falls short.

By Scott DeRue

 |  March 9, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Category:  Artistic leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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