For Discussion: Racial Barriers in Hollyweird…Have They Been Broken??

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Categories: For Discussion, News

This was an interesting read:

Has Hollywood become more tolerant, more accepting, more open-minded? Or is it simply that its obsession with green makes it color-blind when it comes to backing a project? And do Washington, Smith and Perry represent a breakthrough, or are they isolated cases who have defied the odds? As Black History Month unfolds, the film industry sees the aforementioned titans standing tall on top of a pile of dough. Washington’s recent “The Book of Eli” grossed more than $32 million in its opening weekend ending Jan. 17 and has since amassed more than $63 million. Smith is the only actor in history to have eight consecutive films released that grossed more than $100 million each. Perry, a writer-producer-director and playwright, has raked in more than $400 million with his works and is a one-man cottage industry.

“I think they’d be the first to tell you that African-American actors have made strides in terms of movies and Hollywood,” said Glenn Whipp, a film critic for the Los Angeles Times, Variety, MSN and others. “I think it’s much like when Obama was elected president, people don’t pay attention to color and are able to see past it.” “It’s important to look at the kinds of roles they’re playing and the fact that — with the exception of Tyler Perry — they’re playing roles that don’t require any sort of racial consciousness,” she said. “They don’t bring a racial consciousness to bear on the story in a way that disturbs the audience.

“On the one hand it is surprising that now we can all sort of identify with the black leading character whereas before the assumption was that it was only the white character that audiences could identify with. That transformation is an important one. But at the same time the kinds of films that cause us to reflect and look more deeply at race relations, we’ve seen less of those.”

Washington and Smith have carved out extraordinary careers by playing roles that usually aren’t race specific, that could conceivably have been played by stars such as Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Bruce Willis, Johnny Depp or any number of others.

Where does the path begin for success in Hollywood by black actors, writers, directors, producers?

In general, the first steps are taken overseas. Because it is imperative to studio executives and their bottom lines that a film or television show perform well internationally, that often limits the number of opportunities for blacks, primarily because of an old belief that black-themed projects don’t do well outside of the U.S.

Leah Aldridge, a Ph.D. student at USC’s film school who is studying the relationship between international distribution and domestic production in Hollywood, said it all starts outside the borders. “Because of Hollywood’s very intimate relationship with international distributors,” she said, “if the belief exists that black films don’t do well in foreign, then there is no incentive to increase black faces in television and film.”

Aldridge said Perry doesn’t do well internationally, but that his case is unique because he has such an ardent following in the U.S. Washington and Smith, she said, have circumvented the process because “their brand of blackness does very well in the international markets.”

“Hollywood frequently attributes the box-office ‘failure’ of a black film to its black cast and black narrative, hence ‘Black doesn’t do well in foreign,’ therefore we must limit the number of black projects and label them as ‘high risk’ ventures,” Aldridge said.

“But when films like ‘New in Town’ (with Renee Zellweger and Harry Connick Jr.) or ‘Surrogates’ (starring Bruce Willis) are whopping box-office failures, no one in Hollywood attributes it to its white cast. This is indicative of one of the ways racism operates in Hollywood.”

It’s very obvious that racial barriers still exist in Hollyweird, but that’s just our thoughts.

Discuss…

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