The thing about these roundtable discussions with actors and directors is that it’s always the same: one people of color surrounded by white people. So when the conversation finally lands on a topic regarding identity and Hollywood the same thing happens: a person of color brings up…
I want to be clear: The idea of cinema as I’m defining it is not on the radar in the studios. This is not a conversation anybody’s having; it’s not a word you would ever want to use in a meeting. Speaking of meetings, the meetings have gotten pretty weird. There are fewer and fewer executives who are in the business because they love movies. There are fewer and fewer executives that know movies. So it can become a very strange situation. I mean, I know how to drive a car, but I wouldn’t presume to sit in a meeting with an engineer and tell him how to build one, and that’s kind of what you feel like when you’re in these meetings. You’ve got people who don’t know movies and don’t watch movies for pleasure deciding what movie you’re going to be allowed to make. That’s one reason studio movies aren’t better than they are, and that’s one reason that cinema, as I’m defining it, is shrinking.
Well, how does a studio decide what movies get made? One thing they take into consideration is the foreign market, obviously. It’s become very big. So that means, you know, things that travel best are going to be action-adventure, science fiction, fantasy, spectacle, some animation thrown in there. Obviously the bigger the budget, the more people this thing is going to have to appeal to, the more homogenized it’s got to be, the more simplified it’s got to be. So things like cultural specificity and narrative complexity, and, god forbid, ambiguity, those become real obstacles to the success of the film here and abroad.
New photo released of Ben Kingsley as Mazer Rackham, a military commander of Maori descent, in “Ender’s Game” (2013). Regarding the ta moko, Kingsley says:
“Every gesture in the tattoo carries family history, family struggles – it’s your past,” the actor says. “I was so enthralled. He’s in quite a contained, stylized uniform but then this wonderful face tells his warrior history.”
Rackham is an important character of color in the Ender’s Game novel—and arguably the highest profile Maori character in any upcoming tent pole movie this decade. Roles like this one do not come along often for actors of Pacific Islander descent. While the role is being portrayed by an actor of color, it is hard not to feel disappointed that the production did not cast a Maori actor to play this role.
This is getting exhausting.
But at least these studios are helping me save my hard-earned money.
**Picture above: Some question why a Spanish family was made British in The Impossible
And critics like Ms Nieto say most of the few roles that are written for Latino actors rely heavily on stereotypes: domestic worker, criminal, voluptuous siren.
“Fifty million Latinos in the US are all primarily gardeners and maids and gang members?” Ms Nieto asks.
It begs the question, she says: “Does film and television reflect people’s perception, or does it foster a perception?
“Images and narratives have power.”
Check out this article by Hilary Costa in Sky News regarding the rising population of Latinos in the United States while the number of Latinos in the media remain woefully low, in which A.B. Lugo and María F. Nieto are quoted and the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors (HOLA) prominently mentioned by clicking here.
…having a non-white character lets a show or movie look like its covering its bases, but refusing to actually create character details that are drawn from or rooted in that character’s race or ethnicity means that a writer or director doesn’t risk getting those details wrong. Race-blindness is more risk management strategy than a means of actually making television, movies, and books more diverse.
How much pride do you take in the fact that your casts are much more racially diverse than most other shows?
I don’t take pride in it at all. I think it’s sad, and weird, and strange that it’s still a thing, nine years after we did “Grey’s,” that it’s still a thing. It’s creepy to me that it’s still an issue, that there aren’t enough people of color on television. Why is that still happening? It’s 2013. Somebody else needs to get their act together. And oh, by the way it works. Ratings-wise, it works. People like to see it. I don’t understand why people don’t understand that the world of TV should look like the world outside of TV. Like, why is there an assumption of whiteness on television? It’s very weird to me. I think there are some people who work really hard at it. I think J.J. Abrams really goes out of his way to try to make television look diverse. I think it’s happening. And I think that some people just assume whiteness, because that’s what they see. It’s weird.
Do you feel like that’s because it is mostly white guys making TV?
I don’t think it’s about that. I really don’t. J.J. Abrams is a white guy, he does it. Norman Lear, years and years and years and years ago, did it. I think it’s ridiculous, that the networks don’t demand it more. I think it’s crazy that the person who everybody asks this question of is me. Everyone always says to me, “Why aren’t there more people of color on television?” I’m like, “Why don’t you ask a bunch of people who aren’t putting people of color on television why there aren’t more people of color on television.”
You’re right. But you know why we’re asking, it’s not because you’re not doing it.
But, you know what I mean? Like, but I can’t tell you why. I don’t know why the white guys aren’t putting people of color on television, maybe we should ask them. And if you ask them all the time, after a while they might start thinking about putting people of color on television.
Outside the theater after a recent Sundance screening of director George Tillman Jr’s The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, a buyer, who shall of course go unnamed, gave his final appraisal of the film to a group of friends. He declared the movie to be: “Precious-like,” “not quite the essence of the ghetto movie,” and in no way “marketable.”
Comparisons to Precious may abound with this movie and though they are lazy comparisons, they should not be wholly surprising: both films deal with the overall awful lives of young youths living in the ghetto. What the “essence” of the so-called ghetto movie actually is remains to be determined, but certainly what lies at the heart of The Inevitable Defeat… is something that transcends any genre or pseudo genre, a unique and oddly uplifting film that’s part coming-of-age, part survival story…
Pokou Princesse Ashanti, the first 3D animation movie from Cote d’Ivoire produced by Afrikatoon.
Synopsis: Abla Poku is an eighteenth-century Princess from the kingdom of the Ashanti people. She is an influential advisor to King Opokou Ware. One day, she learns that the King’s best friend, Kongouê Bian is plotting a coup against him to take the throne. Poku, refusing to see a war between her people uses her charisma and mystical powers to avoid the conflict. She unfortunately fails and is forced to live under the regime imposed by Kongouê Bian. Refusing to live under his rule, she chooses exile. Despite her departure, the current King decides to chase her, following a prophecy stating that a woman will lead the kingdom, something he doesn’t want to see happen.
Abla Poku or Abena Pokua, Abraha Poukou or Aura Poku is a Princess who existed. She is known among the Ashanti people and is part of the History of Côte d’Ivoire where she is considered the mother of the Baoulé people, one of the main Ivorian ethnic groups.