Hollywood, Separate and Unequal

Manohla Durgis and A. O. Scott review several high-profile features about African-Americans due for release in fall, 2016.

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One Comment on “Hollywood, Separate and Unequal

  1. It is challenging to see all sides of any situation before making an in formed decision. This conversation on race is complexed revealing layers of social disenfrancisement and dyfunction that has existed for centuries. For some, these conversations are new, appear irrelevant and viewed as people making a big deal out of nothing. While others feel that black people and other people of color need to know there places and stop complaining. The social lynchings that black and brown people experience everyday is real. These lynchings are public with spectators from all social media outlets and yet, very little has changed.

    I read this insightful article and will share some highlights that spoke volumes to me:

    Most white directors make movies about white people, whose stories are framed as universal. The upshot is that whiteness is represented as the norm, which inevitably has a way of rendering everything else as “abnormal.” A white cast is a creative choice and just as problematic as the economic rationales that are trotted out to justify discrimination.

    You can’t necessarily blame a specific movie for being about the travails of a white guy, but surely the fact that something like 90 percent of all releases fit that description is a problem. And it’s a problem not just for African-American artists fighting for access, but also for the white people — film critics very much included — who benefit from the system and often unthinkingly uphold its norms and biases.

    The success of individual blacks is seen as proof of racial equality, while, as Mr. McKnight writes, “the exceptional white racist is used to separate the existing racial white community from the onus of the past practices of Jim Crow.” The exceptional white racist — a neo-Nazi, for instance — becomes the emblem of hate, letting other whites off the hook, liberating them from the obligations of the past even as they benefit from racism and their whiteness. And because whites, after Jim Crow, turned to the government to take on problems of discrimination, the burden for change is on the government rather than on community.

    Like a lot (most?) of whites, they operate as if they have no stake in racism, as if it’s something that happens somewhere else, say, in the heart of those Southern-fried villains who pop up in movies. Even those white industry players who make a good-faith effort to effect change often cling to dubious Hollywood formulas.

    In the prestige movies that court critical and academy approval, black people are often symbols and symptoms, their stories parables of pathology, striving and redemption. These stories are frequently rousing — and the performances that anchor them are often full of rich feeling and complex humanity — but it’s still the case that the focus on the extreme and the exceptional comes at the expense of the ordinary. Which means, somewhat paradoxically, that movies interested in everyday stories about black lives — about work, marriage, family and friendship — can feel downright revelatory. That was true of “She’s Gotta Have It” in 1986. It was true of Barry Jenkins’s “Medicine for Melancholy” in 2009, and it has been true, more recently, of films as different as Dee Rees’s “Pariah” and Justin Simien’s “Dear White People.” It’s not that these movies don’t address race, racism and the complexities of African-American identity, but that they ground those themes in the nuances of realism and personal vision.

    Whatever the reason — art, greed, indifference, ignorance, prejudice — American movies remain defined by the principle of separate and unequal.

    And so it goes — until, I suppose, American moviegoers say enough.

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