Thursday, December 4, 2014

Is Hollywood a "White Industry"?

Chris Rock recently wrote an essay about being black in Hollywood.

While I agree with Chris Rock on many points, I feel his argument is a little actor-centric. He did state that key decision-makers/creatives are rarely black. Too many blacks in the industry focus on being in front of the camera instead of behind it. Therein lies the problem. We also have to move beyond black showrunners, black screenwriters, black directors, and black producers. We also need black executive producers, black distributors, black theatre owners, black editors, black DPs, black MPAA raters, and black entertainment professionals.

When I was interviewing at many production companies post-graduation, I noticed how "white" many of these companies actually are. Some companies had no racial or ethnic minority visible. It's a terrible feeling to know you may be wasting your time. And unfortunately, many black production companies cannot afford to hire you, as they may be folding next month. But as a young emerging creative who happens to be a minority, you are often pigeonholed into creating films that emphasize your otherness, not the next Wizard of Oz. The plus side is that many young professionals are passionate about diversifying Hollywood, and if enough of those passionate people get together, Dear White People, or films like it, emerge.

The following quote struck a chord with me the most:
I don't think the world expected things to change overnight because Obama got elected president. Of course it's changed, though, it's just changed with kids. And when you're a kid, you're not thinking of any of this shit. Black kids watch The Lord of the Rings and they want to be the Lord of the Rings. I remember when they were doing Starsky and; Hutch, and my manager was like, "We might be able to get you the part of Huggy Bear," which eventually went to Snoop Dogg. I was like: "Do you understand that when my brother and I watched Starsky and Hutch growing up, I would play Starsky and he would play Hutch? I don't want to play f—ing Huggy Bear. This is not a historical drama. This is not Thomas Jefferson. It's a movie based on a shitty TV show, it can be anybody. Who cares. If they want me to play Starsky or Hutch, or even the bad guy, I'm down. But Huggy Bear?"
Rock's frustration resonates with me because my mother, my brother, my fiancé, and I are huge science fiction fans. We are able to enjoy science fiction just like anyone else and largely do not understand why #blackstormtrooper is so controversial. Black people cannot star in science fiction, fantasy, or superhero films? The new Spiderman received the same racial backlash as #blackstormtrooper, and so did Hunger Games despite the character being originally written as a black girl.

I wrote an unproduced pilot for a production company that folded called The Adventures of Maxis and Kevin. It's about this adventure-like video game character and this everyman community college student. I wrote no racial identifiers for Kevin, but envisioned him in my mind to be a black kid. He could easily be any race. But the reason I wrote this story was because I grew up on video games. I'm a Gen-Yer born in 1984. I related to Oregon Trail, Super Mario, and Zelda. I didn't feel the need to write that Kevin was black because it added nothing to the story, however, just because I didn't specify doesn't mean he's automatically a white character either.

Once a minority filmmaker can make films without them being consider "race" films, we can say we have arrived. But we are not there yet.

Happy Filmmaking.

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