Rajendra Roy, Celeste Bartos Chief Curator of Film at the Modern Museum of Art and panelist on the effects of cancel culture. Courtesy of Peter Ross

Cancel Culture: What Has it Done?

Portland International Film Festival panel discusses the positive and negative aspects of cancel culture


Swift Agency hosted an event on March 8 titled “Beyond Cancel Culture,” an event where several panelists discussed the setbacks and benefits of creating art during an era of “cancel culture.” The event was sponsored by Portland International Film Festival and Oregon Public Broadcasting.


“Cancel Culture” refers to the act of “canceling” someone or something, usually a celebrity or type of media that has made problematic, ignorant, or even hateful statements or decisions. Canceling involves no longer supporting or promoting whatever is deemed to be problematic. 


The panelists at the event included Claudia Meza, co-host of OPB’s State of Wonder weekly radio show, who moderated the panel. Another panelist was Rajendra Roy, an honoree of the Cinema Unbound award and the Celeste Bartos Chief Curator of Film at the Modern Museum of Art (MoMA). Also on the panel was Micah Vanderhoof, the theater manager and programmer at Northwest Film Center.


To cancel someone/something has turned into a huge debacle of whether or not something is problematic and is a factor that people in creative fields are deeply invested in. If enough people voice their opinion, cancel culture has the power to end institutions. “Cancel culture” is now becoming a lens to look at that companies look through when deciding what content to produce.


The first question was how the panelists take cancel culture into consideration when working. Both agreed that giving their audiences context before presenting something is crucial when dealing with the past in the arts and culture world.


Vanderhoof mentioned that researching the topic being presented is absolutely necessary when giving it meaning. Roy essentially said that MoMA is the “guardian of cinema history.”


Most of the questions surrounding cancel culture were answered in relation to film, which both panelists had an extensive background in. The general consensus was that when a film becomes problematic, it’s okay and sometimes necessary to cancel it. 


Also mentioned was that, despite certain industries having a newfound fear of being canceled, it is an opportunity to look critically at the work that’s being produced, and ask if it’s going to engage the audience in a positive way. Roy explained that engaging with demographics that go to the movies the most—especially marginalized communities—is important to making the stories being told appealing to them.


When it was time for Q&A, an audience member asked about the canon, or the collection of art works that have become accepted as standards by critics. The canon can limit who is represented in art and create barriers to new artists having their work seen. Roy said that cancel culture provides a way to “obliterate the canon” and rework the traditional ways to present and talk about art. 


Roy gave an example of MoMA reestablishing their exhibits and how that led to Yale cancelling their intro level arts classes, because the pieces they were discussing in class were no longer on display at the museum.


The panel ended with its audience members reconsidering their previous points of view on the impact of cancel culture. The audience was reminded to always research what’s popular and why supporting something or not supporting something can mean.