Racism In Entertainment: Is Hollywood Unfair to Blacks?
Racism is Not A Thing of the Past
Racial tensions have long been a source of pain, anger, sadness and frustration for many Americans. For generations, minorities have been discriminated against simply because of their color. Though many statements are made that racism is not nearly as prevalent as it was in the 1960s during the Civil Rights era, many others believe it is alive and well and here to stay.
Recently, there have been many stories in the news regarding hate crimes and people being targeted for violence simply because of their race. In a recent report by the FBI, 47.3% of the 6,624 recorded single bias hate crimes in 2010 were 'motivated by racial bias.' (source)
It almost seems ridiculous, in a country as advanced as the United States, that something as benign as race would be a factor for so much hate and violence, yet it seems as if racism keeps creeping into virtually every aspect of our society.
Is Hollywood Racist?
Hollywood has never shied away from controversial topics. There have been scores of films made with racist undertones if not completely about racism. It factors prominently in many classic films such as To Kill a Mockingbird, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and A Raisin in the Sun.
Birth of a Nation, whose original title was 'The Clansmen,' was a silent film released in 1915 and was especially controversial as it depicted African-American men (portrayed by white men in black face) as overly aggressive and sexually deviant. This film has the distinctions of being the first film ever shown at the White House as well as serving as a recruiting tool for the second rise of the Ku Klux Klan.
More recent movies like Monster's Ball, Schindler's List, Hamburger Hill and Glory all give views on race from different angles. All of these films won critical success and got people talking about difficult themes.
Some films, such as American History X, take racism and give it a different spin. The movie stars Edward Norton as a white supremacist who is convicted of murder and sent to prison. His younger brother, played by Edward Furlong, tries to emulate Norton's character with tragic consequences. American History X was extremely violent, a no-holds-barred look at modern racism that was critically praised at the same time as it was deemed controversial.
There is, however, still a lot of racial bias in Hollywood. Many minority actors have valid grievances against the Hollywood 'machine' with allegations that there are not nearly enough leading roles for minorities and the ones that are available are often stereotypical.
There is also discussion that stories that are of interest to minorities are generally not 'green-lit' in Hollywood, meaning they are not approved for production. This could, however, also be due to reasons other than racism, namely the fact that ethnic films do not typically do as well at the box office as other movies. Studies show that the majority of people who traditionally see films in the theater are Caucasian, therefore the industry caters to those who buy the tickets. The Motion Picture Association of America reported that approximately 19.1 million Caucasians bought movie theater tickets in 2011, as opposed to 3.5 million African-Americans and 8.4 million Hispanics. (source - see page twelve)
George Lucas Does it His Way
Sometimes, when Hollywood doesn't want to financially back a movie, a private backer will fund a project.
George Lucas was a guest on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart in January to promote his new film Red Tails, about the famous Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. During his interview, Lucas commented that Hollywood did not want to back the film, because “...it's an all black movie. There's no major white roles in it at all. It’s one of the first all black action pictures ever made.”
Lucas went on to tell Stewart and the television audience that 'black' movies are usually low budget films and Red Tails was expensive to make in comparison, though the average budget for a Hollywood movie is around $60 million. After working on various stages of the movie for over twenty-three years, Lucas funded the making of the film himself, only using studio help for promotional materials and distribution.
The film was released to largely negative reviews on January 20, 2012 and has since grossed almost $50 million, after having had an estimated production budget of about $58 million. Red Tails will be released on DVD on May 22, 2012. The sales from the DVD will obviously increase the gross profit for the movie overall and is where Hollywood usually makes it's money, along with sales of television rights to the films.
Are the Oscars 'Whitewashed?'
The Oscar awards, handed out annually by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, continually have fingers pointed their way for the lack of nominations and wins for people of color. Since the Oscars began in 1929, there have only been five African-American winners in the Best Actor and Actress categories. Halle Berry is the only black female to have won a Best Actress Oscar, which she earned for her performance in Monster's Ball. There are only nine total African American winners for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress combined. There have only been four Asian Oscar winners for any acting categories and two Hispanic winners.
The 2011 Oscars gained the Academy some severe criticism when it was revealed that there were no people of any minority nominated for any of the major award categories. The Academy was accused of 'whitewashing' the Oscars and promoting racism. Others argue that the nominations were a result of the lack of casting diversity in Hollywood.
Racism And The Hunger Games
In March, the hugely popular Hunger Games movie premiered and many fans of the book series were angered because the part of one of the characters, Rue who is described in the book as 'dark skinned,' though not officially labeled as black, was filled by Amandla Stenberg. Many people took to social media sites like Twitter and FaceBook and posted messages stating their displeasure over the casting of Stenberg as well as Dayo Okeniyi in the role of Thresh and Lenny Kravitz as the character Cinna. Though Thresh was described as dark skinned and from the same geographical area as Rue, Cinna's race was more ambiguous.
Twitter messages regarding these castings ranged from 'Why does Rue have to be black, not gonna lie kinda ruined the movie' to "Kk call me racist but when I found out Rue was black her death wasn't as sad."
Though criticism of casting choices for movies made form popular fiction is not exactly a new thing (remember Anne Rice's tirade over Tom Cruise having been cast as Lestat in Interview with the Vampire?) it is an interesting as well as a sad commentary on the state of race relations in this day and age. Though people will often make remarks under the cover of internet anonymity that they would not necessarily make in public, the trashing of these parts cast with black actors is nothing short of ignorant and unacceptable.
The makers of Hunger Games got the last laugh, though. The movie has earned over $534 million in box office receipts worldwide since its release on March 21, 2012.
Acura's Casting Call Faux Pas
More recently, the automobile manufacturer Acura put out a casting call for it's newest Super Bowl ad, asking for African American actors who are 'nice looking, friendly, not too dark.' Whether or not this was just a simple case of Acura wanting to appeal to a specific demographic or if the advertising company is simply that insensitive is a matter of opinion.
Though some people argue that this request is simply a matter of preference for a particular role, others argues that the request was especially insulting to blacks.
Many African-Americans are raised with the belief that lighter colored skin is more attractive and desired than darker tones and, to that end, millions of darker skinned blacks spend astronomical amounts of money on creams, potions and other treatments to lighten their skin.
Acura has since apologized for the language in its casting call request, but many are still angry with the company. Some argue that Acura committed a grievous error, and that the company advertised for a lighter skinned actor simply because white consumers relate more easily to them than to dark skinned blacks.
Acura is also accused of propagating the idea that light skin is more attractive and desirable than dark, whether this was their intention or not.
Do you think that there are different standards for whites and non-whites in Hollywood?
Where Do We Go From Here?
It can be argued that it is human nature to discriminate, to dislike or hate something that is different. It can also be argued that racism is learned behavior.
If the latter is true, then we, as a society, need to practice acceptance as much as we preach it. Hate breeds hate, therefore love must breed love.
Many people, including myself, believe that it is Hollywood's responsibility to not engender racism but, rather, to promote acceptance, tolerance and equality. Since many children and teens choose role models among movie stars and their roles, providing them with a racial mix of heroes, heroines and sidekicks would be a very welcome change indeed.
Don Cheadle Talks About Black Actors and Hollywood
© 2012 Georgianna Lowery