Michael Vass discusses Hollywood & the Race Lift By Darren at The Movie Blog

By Michael Vass | April 14, 2010

Today the Movie Blog cited on of my posts (Tropic Thunder draws questions of racism) in a discussion of The Last Airbender and moreso the issue of race in movies. It’s a topic I have long discussed.

Now I will start off thanking Movie Blog for citing my work. It’s always pleasant to see my work valued by peers. But I believe that Darren, who wrote the post, missed my point.

Darren and I both agree that Hollywood is notorious for race lifting movies. Airbender features a cast of nearly all Whites (except for the villian). The failed Dragonball movie race lifted nearly every character to Whites. The tradition of doing this goes back decades. Even the well done Magnificent 7 is a race lift, and revisioning, of The 7 Samurai (as was A Fist Full Of Dollars to Yojimbo).

I agree that

“Seriously, when was the last time a film maker like Tyler Perry secured a budget equivalent to an equally successful director who works with Caucasian casts? Bad Boys (and yes, Bad Boys II) is the only major blockbuster I can think headline by two non-white actors.”

It’s well overdue that people of color got proper attention on the big screen and small. I particularly enjoyed that Darren pointed out the little known fact that

“Before about 1970, it was common for TV stations in the US South to edit shows featuring non-stereotypical black characters to remove their scenes. In cases where the character couldn’t be edited out, the episode or the entire show wouldn’t be aired. Producers therefore had an incentive to choose an all-white cast even if the original characters were intended to be minorities. (One of the first shows to attempt to break this barrier was Hogans Heroes, which made Kinchloe the second-in-command and the camp genius so he couldn’t be edited out.)

But I feel Darren didn’t get what I was saying when he stated

“Of course, the fact that Kirk Lazarus was a satire himself was apparently taken far too seriously by some people, who completely missed the point and took the movie as a straight example of Hollywood screwing an African American actor out of a part.

The italicized section links directly to my post noted above.

My post, one of 2 on the movie Tropic Thunder, was not intended to address the sacrasm of Robert Downey’s character. I was discussing the hype around the issue of whether or not blackface should be used in movies today. It was also to address, less so, the issue that actors of different races supplant actors that are intended to be of a specific race. Like how Airbender and Dragonball have been.

I have long been an opponent of the standard in Hollywood that prevents people of color from taking roles, directing movies, writing, or otherwise being involved with entertainment. There is less than 10% of all positions in movies and television held by people of color. That’s in front of and behind the scenes. Based on my own attempts at random study, roughly 2% of all characters on television – on any given day, at any given hour, with all channels considered – are the combination of all people of color (which includes background characters). It’s insane if we look at the world, or even just America, in comparison.

Darren in his article also points to the potential of a Black Captain America. Why not he states in so many words. Why not indeed. Just as I asked not long ago, why not a Black Dr. Who? Or any other role for that matter.

But if an actor were to play say the Black Panther, which is in various stages of development for years now, in blackface… well that is another thing indeed. Or a Black actor playing Captain America in whiteface for that matter. Which again was the point I was addressing in the post Darren was addressing.

Overall, I think that anyone can agree that Hollywood – for all the posturing and Liberal idealism that it pontificates – is the bastion of the Ole White Boys Club. An American movie and/or television show seems nearly impossible to be made without White leading characters, and generally one person of color in a minor role. If the film happens to be sci-fi or horror, you can bet on that character getting killed first (generally in the first 15 to 30 minutes of the film).

Airbender like Dragonball before it, and untold movies to come or in the past, support a subliminal racism that is accepted en masse in America – influencing how people of color are often depicted in other nations. Sadly success of these movie and television race lifts guarantees it’s continuation in the eyes of Hollywood execs. The failure of these films is generally seen as just a film that had a limited audience. When people of color are given the rare chance to shine, it is considered a fluke (Will Smith and Denzel Washington are considered the extreme and not a norm) or denigrated to just a “successful minority film” (basically any success of Spike Lee and others).

Will The Last Airbender be a success? Possibly. But the fact that the cast has been transposed to all Whites is not part of that reason. It is an example of Hollywood screwing people of color out of work; and an insult to Americans in assuming we can’t enjoy quality entertainment without White dominated casts. This too I think that Darren and I agree on.

Topics: Black and White, Movie Previews and Reviews, Uncategorized | No Comments »

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