Blacking out of Tyler Perry’s face done by hooligans.
It was constitutionally declared so in 1968, so why does it seem like it never ended?
Well, the segregation I’m observing here is by choice. When I look at these Hollywood movie advertisements side by side, I’m reminded of the famous school dance scene in West Side Story. The tan-faced Puerto Ricans and the “whites” (which I personally object to, being a white Puerto Rican myself) all scatter back to their respective color groups after a failed attempt by a well-meaning principal to show them they’re all one.
How is it that we have not learned from that famous film that integration can heal the racial rift? How can we have ignored so many messages in the past: Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice (1597), Justice John Marshall Harlen’s dissent in Plessy vs. Ferguson (1896), Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream…” speech (1963) and Rodney King’s desperate plea for us all to “get along,” (1992). And why am I bringing this up if it’s already been said ad infinitum?
Well, for one, nobody’s seemed to listen, so I’m gonna take a stab at it. But more importantly, I see the potential for huge global change in the entertainment industry: The Last Racial FrontierTM.
Why the entertainment industry? Sure, there are other fields in which racism is endured. It’s America after all. But those industries are protected by the law, and one can sue with due cause. This protection, however, does not exist for actors who are discriminated against because of their background or the color of their skin. In fact, the industry makes a point of specifically requesting a “type” of actor based on ethnicity. It sounds pretty awful and backward when I put it like that, doesn’t it?
Let me break down for you what happens when a project is about to be cast (i.e., when actors are sought): A casting director is employed. That casting director determines and publishes a “breakdown” for each character needed based on the script. This breakdown almost always includes race and age for each character. The breakdowns are then sent to agents so that they can submit their acting clients accordingly.
“But waiiiit…,” you’re thinking. “Isn’t this just part of telling a story? Aren’t there specific ethnicities and ages to characters in stories determined by the writer?”
Yes. But who ever said the actors have to be cast as those specific ethnicities? Why couldn’t a brilliant actor like Viola Davis have been cast as Catwoman in the upcoming Batman film? And given the nature of period pieces with specific costumes and settings, why couldn’t The Help have been boldly cast with mixed ethnicities on both ends? I don’t know about you, but the poor neighborhood and maids’ uniforms kind of clued me into the fact that I was watching a maid in 1960s Mississippi, not the fact that the actor happened to be black. And the prim and proper costumes and mansions of the white girls were what indicated their affluence. I can’t come up with a reason why Freida Pinto couldn’t have been in one of those lovely dresses.
And you might think, “That seems like a lot of effort for just a movie.” But let’s explore what ethnic-specific casting does to society.
Everybody loves movies, right? I haven’t met a single person who doesn’t have a favorite movie quote or movie star. Movies are the best thing to come out of the 20th century! People go to see them all the time. But what is the major ethnic constituent of film audiences? Well, who do you see when you personally go to the movies? The answer is everybody. Every age, every color, every everything. (If you don’t live in the city, you may have to drive out of your segregated neighborhood to another ethnicity’s neighborhood to observe their main movie house and you’ll see that they go to the movies too).
When I see posters like the one above, I see a young black girl thinking that she can’t grow up to be someone like Kristen Stewart’s Snow White, who is special and pretty and saves the day. That black girl is not being given a role model.* Unless you consider the role model she’s given when she sees a movie like The Help and discovers that if she works hard she too can be a maid when she grows up! And then a white boy looks at the poster for another Tyler Perry film and decides that black people are “others,” and that his world is separate from theirs, and so why should he care about them?
Certainly both and all sides are responsible for these perpetuating stereotypes and voluntary segregation. Privileged white men started it, but we’re all guilty of perpetuating it. It is cause and effect, and it is killing us.
And what about those people who are not one or the other: not white, but not a minority. Do we just ignore them? Because non-white babies born last year have now passed into the majority. Do we have to wait thirty years for them to enter the upper echelons of the work force and ticket-buying public for something to change in Hollywood?
Well, they may not make it given our current model – and I don’t have thirty years of patience. That’s why I’m making my movie.
* Author’s personal feelings about having a princess as a role model will not be discussed at this time.
Editor’s Note: Look for an upcoming interview with Viviana about discussing her most recent project, White Alligator, soon on Intellectualyst. In the meantime, check out the web and Facebook pages for the movie, www.whitealligatorthemovie.com and http://www.facebook.com/