You don’t need another blog about how intrinsically prejudiced Hollywood is and, frankly, I can’t be arsed writing one. But my last two cinema trips have just been so profoundly depressing, on a number of levels, I have to offload.
Lord knows, there are enough People of Colour speaking articulately and vehemently enough on the subject of race in cinema, but I’m left wondering for how many more decades we have to endure this shit before anything changes.
There are greater racial injustices in the world than a media that doesn’t seem to want to include non-whites at any significant level in production, as has been demonstrated by yet another policeman escaping conviction, after killing yet another innocent black teen in the US this week.
Nonetheless, I feel like being able to enjoy a film that doesn’t serve the interests of PoC, in any way – all white production, disposable and superficial characters that play on reductive, white interpretations and a sanitised politics that reduce complex political issues into neo-liberal sound bites for middle-America – is impossible.
And each time I watch a film that has failed PoC – and consequently, everyone – I’m met with other white people arguing that attempting to insert an interesting black character into the film wouldn’t be right for it, or would be tokenism, or not reflective of reality.
Let’s be basic – taking aside the fact that U.S. Cultural Imperialism is, in itself, racist (the world sees the U.S., the U.S. never sees the world) – more than 22% of the US isn’t white. Which is vastly disproportional to those who act in mainstream film (only 12 Black Actors, male and female, had won Oscars up until 2009) and catastrophically out of synch with those who produce and commission it.
If nearly a quarter of Americans never see themselves fully realised by non-white actors, who are positioned by non-white directors, written by non-white writers and then promoted and governed by non-white executives, then the truth is that those people are being effectively excluded from true engagement. And I can’t enjoy that.
I have seen films at the cinema that aren’t white and managed to engage, you’re right. Bollywood films, for example. But I see those films within a U.S. dominated malaise, and it forms part of a larger range of film in which I regularly see white people. I have that option. Plus white people rule the fucking world, so it’s not the same. I can console myself with a reality in which I’m twice as likely to be employed and all the other statistical atrocities I enjoy because of a combination of melatonin and hate.
I went to see Nolan’s new film – and I like Nolan films – and whilst it was wildly scientifically inaccurate and starred the talentless Hathaway (give it up, Chris, she’s not gonna shag you), it was pretty dynamic and watchable. But can we ever say a film is great anymore when you know the one significant black actor in the entire fucking thing will definitely die?
No. You just can’t in 2014.
No film that has one black character in it, who dies in the first half of the film can ever be great.
At what point do all these white executives and casting directors sit around the table in 2014 and go,
“OK so we have Hathaway in trying to persuade us that love is a tangible scientific force akin to gravity, right? We’ve spent six million pounds on special effects and we have a sinister twist with a big-name surprise? You know what we need now, don’t you? A black guy. How about this character with no back story, no redeeming features and a sudden, unemotional death in the first half?”
I know this isn’t the only film to do it. In fact, so commonplace is the non-white character’s demise that it has become a recurring joke in the rest of popular culture. Yet here we are, with a new fucking blockbuster, and the same tired and depressing inevitability.
Then I saw the new James Brown Biopic – Get On Up.
If you’re not a fan of the music of James Brown, I’ll pray for you.
The actor who plays James Brown – Chadwick Boseman – is absolutely perfect and as anyone who has seen Brown’s performances can attest, to portray him well is a significant feat.
It’s a fucking brilliant film. A stellar cast, comprising mostly black actors and Dan Ackroyd as Brown’s long-time manager and friend. The soundtrack should make you sob with it’s sheer majesty and despite the clunky narrative (Brown was a wildly eccentric individual with a lot of story to fit in), there is so much tenderness and beauty in it, you’d have to have a nerve of steel not to be moved.
Despite living in an era of extreme racial tension, being the Godfather of Funk, and growing up in dire poverty to become the most sampled musician of all time; Brown was also a complex, troubled and flawed icon. He beat his wives, was greedy, made some terrible political decisions (including endorsing Nixon and befriending Reagan) and once shot a gun in an insurance company because someone had used his personal toilet.
But, hey, don’t they want you to fucking know it?
It took around a decade for this film to ever be made despite it being such a significant one – it was being mooted before Brown died in 2006 – which is much the same length of time it took for them to make Ray – the Ray Charles biopic starring Jamie Foxx. And now that it is made, they have certainly shown us the warts and all version of Brown, despite some of his drug abuse, politics and violence being tempered.
We certainly know by the end of the film that Brown was flawed. Because, heaven forefend, we’re allowed to focus on his incredible music legacy – inclusive of the “I’m Black and I’m Proud” anthem -and the pathways he opened for other musicians, of all races.
Speaking of which, Mick Jagger is the producer of this film. Which marks my major problem with it. The film is directed by Tate Taylor – the white fella who also directed The Help (Hm…) – written by two white men, and produced by Jagger who apparently owns the rights to this film, for some reason.
That’s Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones, who, much like The Beatles in their early career, copied (in some cases directly covering) early black Rock n Roll musicians like Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and indeed, Brown, which is essentially the reason for their fame and fortune.
This is the same Rolling Stones who have members who fucked people under sixteen, when they were very much over 16.
Why couldn’t black people have MADE this film? This story belongs to black people.
The fucking travesty of Jagger stealing a genre of music, then years later re-packaging it into another creative project to peddle back to the people he stole it from, irks me.
I like the music of The Rolling Stones. This isn’t about The Rolling Stones. This is about the fact that non-white people are the best authors of their own stories.
The world is racist, so cinema is racist. I know. I get it.
But prevailing popular culture informs and shapes society, and if you’re enjoying racist creations, you’re pretty much racist.
And we all don’t want to be racist. I’ve discovered that on Social Media.
“How dare you call me racist!” says the racist every day on Twitter and Facebook.
What racists don’t understand is that racism isn’t just about having a black mate at work, or Asian spouse, or words used on social network sites. Racism is a doing word; an activity. It’s not just about overt exclusion, or inclusivity. It’s about complicity. If you’re enjoying something non-whites are deliberately and meticulously excluded from and you don’t overtly object to or question it; you’re the problem. There needs to be a fucking good reason for an all white lead cast, and there rarely – if ever – is one.
The truth is, as I’ve previously outlined, this topic is too huge and important to be fully addressed in one blog. It’s also an issue that is far better articulated and expressed by people who aren’t white, and I’m white.
But it’s the duty of all of us to start questioning – at every fucking turn – just why it is people who aren’t white are never anything more than what White Hollywood wants them to be. Fighting for a rightful place in cultural production is absolutely an agenda for non-whites. But objecting to that exclusion is a duty of us all.
Fuck Hollywood, and, if you think this is PC nit-picking, fuck you too.