Two black men, a Latino and a Greek woman were talking about racism… No, this is not the opening line of a joke, yet an unfortunate actual occurrence. It’s truly amazing how prevalent racism is today, especially when you consider how far we’ve come.
How far we’ve come is exemplified by our commander and chief; how prevalent racism still is, was evident via the recent back-n-forth Barack Obama had to endure regarding our country’s financial status. While it can be said that the drama in Washington was political – Democrats VS. Republicans – anyone really paying attention knows it was black and white – Yeah I said it! “You should pass it, right away,” the President said repeatedly in his latest address to the nation, referring to the American Jobs Act, which is now on Capitol Hill. How tragic it is that we STILL battle amongst ourselves as a people due to the color of our skin. All thinking and moral folks know that the only color that actually makes a difference is Green.
Allow me to apply the gross face of racism to a subject I’m more familiar with, ala the wonderful world of entertainment. One who’s worked in radio, TV and film, it disturbs me that every fall, all the commercials and snipes for new shows in NYC subways and on the streets primarily reflect one aspect of the population. It’s actually very natural to create things in one’s own image, as that is what any given person is most able to relate to. However the multitude of images and aspects of hegemony we’re exposed to on a daily basis is simply not where we live. There’s more of a diverse culture in the United States than anywhere else in the world. There is more of an eclectic mix of international backgrounds in New York City than in any other state in the nation. Despite this blatant reality, the majority of ads for new shows always lack diversity while perpetuating the ideals of the dominant ruling class. So why am I surprised? I’m not, I guess my concern and/ or query is when or will it ever stop. Okay okay, LL Cool J and Laurence Fishburne both landed jobs on NCIS: Los Angeles and CSI respectfully in the past few years, I say it’s not enough. Okay okay, Jamie Foxx is the Executive-Producer of the new sketch comedy show In The Flow with Affion Crockett – somehow its still not enough – yet with that I can’t argue that things are not happening. However after such a long time within our society the progression that’s happening is making very little difference. It’s like a sculptor chipping away at their masterpiece, such a process – “Thank God for small favors,” my mother used to say. They’re never satisfied are they? You give ‘em civil rights and equal opportunity employment and they still complain… The reality is that, the key to success is entrepreneurship in any given trade or profession. It’s not easy, but that’s just how it’s done. All conglomerates are rooted in the actions of a sole individual, apart from a multitude of partnerships. Partnerships are not as valued today as they used to be due to greed, but I digress, this is a blog about racism, although at the same time these points are relevant. The diminishing of racism can tremendously be supported by entertainment, and many efforts have been made – at the same time, there are aspects that reinforce it. Entertainment and mass media is our greatest and most respected commodity and export to the world and overwhelmingly valued here on U.S. soil. It’s what there’s always funding for as long as one of the decision makers gives the green light for any given idea to be produced. Like any industry the art of entertainment has had its challenges, but its difficulties have come nowhere close to some of the disturbing realities of society that it displays. In the 1920s, movie making was the fifth largest industry in the country. Think of the lack of industry that exists in the U.S. today and take a guess at what’s “Paramount” and accepted on a “Universal” scale. America sets the pace for entertainment around the globe.
Year after year after year, one gross example that shows how our world is based on the ideology of one group of people is displayed through ads for outlets like Showtime. Every season, it’s as if only one race of people have existed throughout the annals of time. There’s “The Tudors” to “Shameless” to “The Borgias” to “Weeds.” Present day and period pieces both focus on one type or culture of people. Granted there have been people of color depicted in at least one of these shows (Weeds, hmm), however the “stars” are always one-sided. The ads for major network television and other cable channels are the same. All the faces you see in major roles on the boob tube reflect a pretty narrow dynamic. Back in 1999, the movie “The Best Man” was the number-one movie in the country. What an optimistic moment in time! There was actually dialogue that it could be the beginning of significant change. These conversations were obviously only conducted amidst the optimists, of which I was one. I thought with such a pristine, “clean-cut” group of African-Americans, that surely those pushing buttons would have an awakening to the masses of a diverse community of filmgoers. Here was a good film with an ensemble cast of black talent. Amidst the players were, Taye Diggs, Nia Long, Morris Chestnut, Regina Hall, Harold Perrineau and Monica Calhoun, just to name a few. It proved that films with primarily black actors can make money – and this is just one example. Fast forward years later… Tyler Perry’s films always do well at the box office these days, yet the powers that be still ignore the overwhelming statistics of success. Bill Cosby’s The Cosby Show was a hit for years, and he’s had four successful TV shows throughout his long career. Does Hollywood not want to make money? Not by a long shot. Is there a shortage of prominent black actors and actresses? Hell No!!! Here’s just a few listed below:
Taraji P. Henson
Samuel L. Jackson
*Donald Faison (New show this fall on TV Land)
Amidst the plethora of talent listed above are Oscar, Tony and Emmy winners and nominees. That said, there’s no shortage of skilled professionals that can deliver the essence of stories about experiences based on a broad range of people. So why don’t we see more of these celebrities in film? Right now, Viola Davis stars in a film called “The Help.” It’s the number-one movie in America. Although I have yet to see it, I’ve heard and have no doubts that Davis’ delivery is phenomenal. Davis doesn’t know how to do a bad job when it comes to stage and screen. I had the fortune to see her opposite Denzel in a revival of August Wilson’s “Fences.” They were both magnificent! Even though “The Help,” features Davis and several black female actresses, it’s about the help of an era many would like to forget. It’s imperialist nostalgia at its best. The trailer gives one the impression that the film actually liberates “The Help” and gives a voice to dozens of maids that have been stifled and/ or oppressed. However, this idea for a film is steeped in racism, as it rears its ugly head about a time long gone… or is it? IT AIN’T!!! Racism is “Alive” and it’s never done “Well” for anyone. Was “The Help” made to remind blacks how they’re still seen? Is this the only way to employ diversity in film? I know there’s been a multitude of scripts written that can do the same in a different light, that have never seen the light of day. Whether “The Help” was made to glorify black women or not, as it’s based on a book written 50 years ago, it still reeks of racism – be it for, or against it. I’ve lived long enough to recognize racism the second its presented, be it sugar coated or shit served on a silver platter.
One thing that is very encouraging are the many people of color and other ethnic backgrounds working in the business of entertainment. While this may not be true for as many people in front of the camera, at least the teams behind the scenes tend to be diverse. However there’s not enough creating content that depict our diverse culture for more projects to take flight. People from all walks of life and all around the world are working in the industry of entertainment. Given that fact, it seems that it would be a no-brainer that the folks you see on numerous TV and film sets, should also be portrayed in various television shows and film. NOPE! A Producer may come in contact with a female Director, a black Assistant Director, a Latin make-up artist, an Asian gaffer, an Indian coordinator and a Brazilian PA – yet they don’t connect the dots as to what films and TV shows they should produce. Somehow their hearts and minds are limited as it relates to what they can create. Why is that?
This lack of diversity goes back to my opening line. My role in a show I worked on recently was that of a Production Assistant aka a P.A. Now while I don’t mind working as a P.A., I much prefer being a Production Coordinator or shooting projects of my own. While working on set, a black principle actor was happy to see that I was part of the team, because it’s not something he sees often. The Latino noted that while he felt fortunate to be working, his dialogue for the show was begrudging. Although he’s acting as a psychiatrist, his presence is of minimal significance. The Greek woman wasn’t actually from Greece, but had ancestors from the Mediterranean. As people of the Mediterranean are comprised of various cultures, in lieu of the history of the dominating class, she considers herself Latina. These are just a few impressions that are on the minds of many, in entertainment as well as other professions. Despite the fact that black luminaries and celebrities have transcended color in their appeal to a mass audience in entertainment, media and sports, it’s still a struggle for many to be recognized. People like Michael Jackson, Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jordan are not consistently and/ or initially looked at as black people first, but for their accomplishments. Now, make no mistake, I’m by no means saying that the general public has forgotten these people are black – but that’s not all people see when they think of, or look at them. Oprah says anybody has the ability to be as successful as she is with drive and motivation, yet that’s simply not true, because it’s far from that simple. The gatekeepers have to give more people opportunities for things to really change, like the one that gave Oprah a shot to fulfill her dream.
You may or may not like Tyler Perry, but he’s clockin’ big time. Why? Because the people, the “Gatekeeper” at Lion’s Gate, gave him an avenue to produce his films. He came to the table with a successful track record for his independent stage productions. It could be said that he was given this opportunity because his movies depict black people the way the dominant ruling class wishes to see us characterized. Nonetheless, it’s afforded him the privilege of being a major player in Hollywood. Spike Lee’s name is synonymous with fellow New York directors Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese, yet we have yet to see more black directors come to fruition. It’s not like someone in power is saying look at the successes of Tyler and Spike and seeking out projects done by young up and coming black filmmakers. Certainly there are several talented ones out there that have created something worthy, even though I’m personally unaware of them. So, “the struggle continues.”
I could write a book on this topic, but that’s not my passion. I’m not a scholar on the subject of race, but I know what I see, and too much of it has been un-pretty for far too long, hence this blog. I don’t want to be the “Angry Black Man”, but as Oprah once said, “Sometimes you gotta be blacker than others” – so I needed to voice these thoughts. Its counter productive for me to invest an extended amount of time in an issue designed to degrade me. Like the majority of black Americans that recognize that racism is ever vivid, those of substance and stamina choose to rise above. It’s urgent that more people think this way in any given respect where one is oppressed. There’s no point in dwelling on the negative, so ones efforts have to be constantly focused on changing ones social status in order to generate positive change. Changing ones position in society enables one to be a member of a different caste. This lends to all people of substance to interact with others that share the same ideals, hopefully resulting in everyone being able to provide for one’s family and prosper. “All we need is love, love is all we need,” a wise man once said.