Thursday, December 18, 2014

Being Black in Hollywood

Last week, I opened the newest Hollywood Reporter as I waited for my flight to takeoff. On the cover was Chris Rock, discussing race in the industry.

The Hollywood Reporter, December 12

At first, I was excited to read the article, because the topic hits close to home. Being an aspiring screenwriter is about as difficult as it gets for a young woman in Los Angeles; let alone one who isn't solely white. But the more I read, the angrier I became.

For years, we have been taught by our public schools that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 effectively solved all of our problems. That black people instantly became accepted into society, and the United States has since become a more welcoming place. We just reelected the first black president, for god's sake.

However, America has truly reared its ugly head these past few months. The deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, the protests (both violent and nonviolent) throughout the nation, and social media has given each individual the opportunity to voice their opinions. Opinions that are often ignorant, and horrifically offensive.

Chris Rock's point in this article is that black people are not afforded the same rights in this industry. Someone is going to give that young white man a chance, while an equally (if not overly) qualified black man stands waiting in the wings. And it's wrong. So wrong.

Look at Ridley Scott's Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014). Scott openly admitted that the reason he cast Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton as Moses and Ramses is because he wouldn't be able to make the big-budget film he wanted without white actors:

Ridley Scott

"I can't mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such," Scott says. "I'm just not going to get it financed. (Hollywood Reporter)

The sad thing about this? It's true. The film industry can't even make an accurate depiction of a biblical epic because it "won't make any money."

But this isn't why I'm angry.

While the media has been focusing solely on North Korea's involvement in the massive Sony hack in recent weeks, a great deal of racist comments have been leaked from the emails of Sony executives. Executives that have the power to influence this nation by what pictures they choose to put on the screen.

Sony Pictures Entertainment chief Amy Pascal and producer Scott Rudin exchanged a series of emails insinuating that the only films President Obama would have enjoyed last year were ones about and/or involving black people and their history:

Amy Pascal

"Pascal replied, 'I doubt it. Should I ask him if he liked DJANGO?' Rudin responded: '12 YEARS.' Pascal quickly continued down the path of guessing Obama preferred movies by or starring African Americans. 'Or the butler. Or think like a man?'' (BuzzFeed)

Why on earth was no one screaming from the rooftops for their resignation?! Why do we ignore the damning statements these powerful people say, but we jump all over others like Donald Sterling, or Paula Deen?! It's hypocrisy on a dangerous level.

Yes, there was some backlash, but nothing more than a slap on the wrist. Both issued apologies, vowing that this was a stupid mistake, BLAH BLAH BLAH. No one learned ANYTHING from this. Rudin's apology speaks volumes about how much of a shit he really gives:

Scott Rudin

"Private emails between friends and colleagues written in haste and without much thought or sensitivity, even when the content of them is meant to be in jest, can result in offense where none was intended," (Deadline)

WRITTEN IN HASTE WITHOUT MUCH THOUGHT OR SENSITIVITY. So, does this mean I'm allowed to send jokes about Jews back and forth around my workplace? Because, you know, "the content of them is meant to be in jest," and may or may not "result in offense where none was intended."

This afternoon, I discovered an article that summarized my frustrations with these two exactly:

"If nothing else, the Pascal-Rudin email exchange came as a stark reminder that the boxing-in of black male achievers has no limits. The two producers may have been joking, but apparently even being a two-term president with far-reaching and well-documented intellectual interests and accomplishments was not enough for them to imagine President Obama's film tastes encompassing more than black-themed movies." (Orr, The Hollywood Reporter)


An unnamed producer emailed Sony chairman Michael Lynton and said that films like The Equalizer (2014) would be more successful if a black actor wasn't the lead. (BuzzFeed)

Although, he/she hopes the statement wasn't "inappropriate or provocative." Haven't we all realized by now that by starting a sentence with "I'm not racist, but" inevitably means you're about to say something racist?!

I don't want to believe this is happening at other production studios, but I wasn't born yesterday. This industry is by and for white people, and it's not going to change unless we decide to change it.

Every week, I observe my peers in our film classes-the "next generation of filmmakers" that everyone is so excited for. I, however, don't understand the enthusiasm at all, because the majority of the students in these classrooms are white men. We are not bettering our industry-we are living in La La Land.

Rock is absolutely right in saying that no one will give the black man a chance. No one has given the black man OR woman a chance in Hollywood since it all began. Of the 2,809 Oscars that have been awarded since 1929, only 31 black people have won. THIRTY-FUCKING ONE.

Hattie McDaniel (above) was the first black woman to win the Oscar in for her performance in Gone With the Wind (1939) but was segregated from her peers at the ceremony

At a time when I should feel grateful to be doing what I love in a city that I love, I am ashamed to be a filmmaker. I am ashamed to be part of an industry that obviously doesn't want me or people like me. And I'm terrified that this will never change.

As if they needed to prove my point any further, this is the photograph and article that immediately followed Rock's cover story:

Look at all of those white men.

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