First off, let me just say that I’m not a Hollywood insider.
Like most Americans, I’m merely a consumer of film and entertainment. That alone is fraught with peril, but I’ll save that for another day.
I’m writing this as more and more people are weighing in on the lack of diversity as evidenced by nominees at the 2016 Oscars. Certainly, this isn’t anything new, but something has hit the zeitgeist and so … here we are … yet again.
You know, whenever I go see a film, I always, without fail, ask myself if any of the characters played by white actors up on the big screen could be played by African-American actors of comparable talent. By the way, you know that I'm a person of color because this is something that I can assure you would almost never cross the minds of most white filmgoers ... but I digress.
The answer is always a resounding “Yes.” Also, I say “of comparable talent” because whenever there’s a lack of blacks in anything, you always hear responses that speak to something that's inexplicably lacking in black people. You always hear, they don’t have “this” or they don’t have “that.” Somehow, black people don't "measure up." This in and of itself is racist. It’s a BIG symptom of the very problem.
So … what’s wrong with Hollywood? Hollywood is merely a microcosm of what’s happening – or not happening – in our society as a whole. The fact that we’re even debating about whether or not we live in a racist society proves that yes, we’ve got a debilitating problem. Let me add here that this problem doesn’t only affect African Americans. It also impacts Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans and all people of color.
At the end of the day, if color doesn’t matter, as so many people claim, then why aren’t we seeing more people of color on the big screen? This is also the case in television. Television is a bit better, but quite frankly, not really.
You know, with all due respect to my white brothers and sisters, white people enjoy a sort of “colorlessness” (also known as privilege) that people of color will never experience. We are NOT post racial. That’s reality. White people are rarely judged by their “color” in the same ways that people of color are. Yes, racism IS a two-way street and you don’t have to be “white” to be racist. However, whenever I hear white people say that “color” doesn’t matter, it says to me that “color doesn’t matter” to them because it has never been an “issue” for them ... on an individual and cellular level.
Almost any black person or any person of color can tell you from personal experience that color does indeed matter. Despite popular belief, very few people of color want to BLAME anything on racism. Racism is inconvenient at best and DEADLY at its worst. I choose neither.
Color always matters. It matters when you walk into a department store, it matters when you’re applying for a job, it matters when you’re pulled over by a cop, it matters when you’re simply writing an essay. And clearly, color also matters BIGTIME when you’re casting a film.
Look, I don’t think anyone expects to see a black actor cast in a major, frontline role in something like PBS-TV’s “Downton Abbey” or yet another big screen adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” Although talented black actors could play those roles, we do have to take historical accuracy into account. Fine. Still, I must ask. Why are we not seeing more people of color cast as normal, everyday people with daily struggles in more films?
Here’s another big issue that I have. I cannot tell you how tired I am of seeing many of the black characters that we DO seem in film and on television portrayed as “stereotypically black.” What is that? Why do “black characters” always have to make reference to the fact that they’re “black”?
This almost always seems to be the producers’ ways of saying, “Here’s the ‘black’ character that you guys are saying you want!” “See! He’s BLACK! He just said so himself!”
Yes, I can SEE that. Thank you.
Most black people I know – including myself – KNOW how to be black without OVERSTATING the fact. We’ve never NOT been black. We’ve been black for so long that our blackness “gave up” and finally merged with our humanity.
By the way, that was meant as a joke. Sorry, I’m no Chris Rock.
What’s even more important than being black – or Asian or Hispanic or Indian – is the fact that we’re HUMAN. People of color have an endless supply of poignant, riveting, captivating and plain ole interesting, HUMAN stories to tell. Most of these stories aren’t comedies either. They’re dramatic tales about challenged and troubled people who are trying to make their way in the world – just like our white brothers and sisters.
I cannot speak for all people of color, but I see myself as a human being before anything else. Isn’t that what the whole Civil Rights Movement was about? The content of our character? And in the case of Hollywood, the content of “A CHARACTER”?
What troubles me so much about the lack of diversity on screen is the fact that no one seems to notice it … except black actors and black people who go to see these films. Look, I totally understand that many people want to be able to personally relate to the people and characters they see on screen. Unfortunately, this often comes down to skin color. It pains me to say that, but hey, that’s reality. It’s also racist.
Call me “Mr. Ebony and Ivory,” but isn’t it OUR responsibility as individuals and as a society to learn, grow and expand our world? This cannot happen if your world is only black or only white or only Hispanic or whatever. What’s wrong with Hollywood? The same thing that’s wrong with the world. People refuse to move outside of their comfort zones.
Here’s another thing. I think white people often think that black people or other people of color are seeking inclusiveness ONLY because they want to be WITH THEM. We luv ya, but that’s not really it. Inclusiveness isn’t necessarily always about “acceptance,” but it IS about being seen as the human being that you are. Inclusiveness is about wanting to actually contribute something of value to the world. Inclusiveness is about opportunities for everyone and not just a few.
Okay now. Let’s talk about box office.
The reality is that “black films” have a tough time. I wish that more black people and people of color would support films made by people of color. This is a no-brainer. I need to do even more of this myself. More of these films would be made if they got greater support.
However, I also understand that Hollywood is a BUSINESS. It’s a creative business. In all likelihood, Morris Chestnut isn’t going to get a “Tom Cruise role” (although he could play it) and Viola Davis isn’t going to get a “Julia Roberts role” (although she could play the hell out of it). Actors and movie stars with proven track records (although sometimes spotty) are going to get the *starring* roles in big features with big budgets (partly due to big salaries). Big budget films need to make big money and they have a greater chance (though not always) of succeeding with big, proven names. Those are most often white actors. That’s reality.
BUT … here’s the thing. Yes, demographics are important when it comes to films and big budgets. Yet I often think that demographics are the new racism. When you narrow everything down to what “13-year-old, video game-playing white males” will likely go to see, how can that NOT be racist? Also, how can that NOT be sexist? Yes, you’ve got a target audience and you need to make money. Believe me, I GET it. But isn’t it also the mission of a creative business to think “outside the box”?
In short, people of color go to the movies too. People of color like to watch television too. In “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” Director J.J. Abrams and others actually did a decent job of casting actors of color in pivotal, yet non-stereotypical roles. And pardon me? How much money did that film make?
We live in a world where MOST people will say they’re not racist or sexist and yet racism and sexism are HUGE problems in the world. So how did we get here? No one wants to take responsibility.
Now … here’s something else that troubles me. Why do issues of race and sexism almost always descend into debates that center on … let’s do “this” OR “that” to address the problems? Like cancer, racism is a HUGE problem that calls for comprehensive, holistic, multi-pronged remedies addressed on NUMEROUS fronts. It’s not about merely doing “this” or “that.”
Do we need Black Entertainment Television? Yes. Do we need Tyler Perry, Spike Lee and Debbie Allen? Yes. Do we need more people of color represented in the Academy Awards voting academy? Yes. Do we need more good, actors of color? Yes. Do we need more white actors who are comfortable with working with black actors? Yes. Do we need more screenwriters, producers and directors who’ll hire more black actors? Yes. Do we need more people of color to go see films that feature people of color? Yes. Do we need more studios willing to bankroll films that feature people of color? Yes. Do we need more white people to go see films that feature people of color? Yes. Should people boycott things when they think boycotts will be worthwhile? Yes. Yes. Yes.
Should people resort to hate and name calling on Twitter? NO.
We’re all in this TOGETHER. Everyone shares responsibility. There’s simply no need to get into debates about what can best solve the problem. Again, what’s wrong with Hollywood? The same thing that’s wrong with the world. We need to get busy.
You know, it has just occurred to me that I’m writing this because I truly believe in people and human potential and in what we can all achieve ... when we’re on the same page. I hate to say this, but sometimes I think animals – in some ways - are more advanced than we are as human beings. How can we possibly explain some of these videos where we see animals of completely different species caring for one another? They simply drop the barriers. It’s amazing.
Why can’t we do that? I’ll tell you why. Ego, money, greed, vanity, selfishness, racism, sexism, class structure, you name it. Ugh! I’m exhausted.
One final thing. Can I just say that I was shocked way back when Ralph Fiennes didn’t get a best actor nod for “The Grand Budapest Hotel”? He absolutely KILLED that role.
Oh wait. Ralph Fiennes isn’t black. What’s wrong with Hollywood?