When I was 10 years old I wanted to be a filmmaker. I didn’t necessarily know exactly what I wanted to do in film, but I knew that it was something I wanted to do. Along with my way people usually told me life was hard. But they didn’t tell me that people around the world wouldn’t like me just because I was dark. In addition to the prejudice and the fact that it would be inevitably transferred into my dream of being a filmmaker, just made it much more realistic. Even though African American men and women have had a long history in Hollywood winning Academy Awards for acting, screenwriting and music production, to name just a few.
Despite this fact, an increasing number of three-dimensional roles have opened up to minorities, African American men continue to be stereotyped as thugs, domestic workers, in film and television just to name a few. But also it’s a disservice to the African-American community and even more specifically on the African American Males. People Like me. (The kind of future that looks extra out of site.) In this essay, I will discuss the experience of black men in the film industry to demonstrate how race and gender interact.
African American men, in general, have been put through many different atrocities for hundreds of years… But for purposes of this analysis on film and television, I think we can start with good Ol’ fashioned stereotypes and how these things (stigmas) never really go away. First up is what we call the “Magic Negro”, which basically are characters that usually are African American men with ‘special powers’ who make appearances solely to help Caucasian characters out of jams, seemingly unconcerned about their own lives. It’s sound super clique but it’s more realistic, like when you watch an Academy Awarding Forrest Whitaker that played “The Last King of Scotland”, only 7 years later playing “Lee Daniels the butler”. So the next time you watch Batman’s Begins or the Nolan trilogy (which you will) know that Morgan Freeman who played the role of God, was a “Magic Negro” when he played Luscious Fox. (5 Common Black Stereotypes)
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Let’s look at another one, we call them the “Black best friend”; now this stereotype is for both men and for women. Like Magical Negroes, black best friends don’t have well-written lives of their own, but somehow turn up at exactly the right moment to coach Caucasian characters through life. Television shows and movies such as “Gone With The Wind” usually capitalize on the stereotype in the early 20th century. But more recent movies such as “Driving Miss Daisy” and “The Help” featured African Americans, as domestic is an insult. From reading Catherine A. Luts and Jane L. Collins book “Color of Sex” and how in the book it says that “…In photographs there where dark-skinned people usually portrayed of an overall image of contentment, industriousness, and simplicity” (Color of Sex”) you can thank National Geographic for allowing American Idealism to take that ideology and run with it.
While we’re still on stereotypes, I wanted to get much more stereotypical. Although in Hollywood decent roles for African Americans are having brief difficulties, there’s absolutely no shortage of black male actors playing drug dealers, pimps, con-artists and other forms of criminals in television shows and films. Such as “Training Day, “Chicago PD”, “Law and Order”, “Blue Bloods”(you see where I’m heading with this). The disproportionate amount of African Americans playing criminals in Hollywood fuels the racial stereotype that black men are dangerous and have zero respect for the law. Often these films and television shows provide with little to no context in the least of why African American men are more likely to end up in the criminal justice system. It may be a hunch, but I think the studios would rather have one side of a story than, than digging a little deeper to find a much more well-rounded one.
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“ The social control and physical discipline of Black males in contemporary U.S. prisons, public schools, and other social institutions is a reality made possible through stereotypes perpetuated through mass media” (Color Sex). The anger boiling in many Black males is warranted and originates from a deep historical context and sustained confrontation with White supremacy. This anger and frustration are real and alive. It naturally produces self-doubt, alienation and general disenfranchisement, which plays out from the early ages of eight years old for young men of color.
When I read “Color of Sex” it opened to my mind on a bigger scale. Such as the fact that in “an equally regular way black and bronze people were mostly portrayed as poor and people that were white were painted as well off” (Color Sex). Seems very realistic to the situation of today. But let’s put that into film perspective when it comes to the money and the lack of opportunities that affect African Americans in the industry especially hard.
While doing some research I found that the amazing University of Southern California studied the 700 top-grossing films from 2007 to 2014, excluding 2011, and analyzed the race and ethnicity of more than 30,000 characters to reveal diversity in film. Which to ultimately be shown that they’re ‘amazing’ studied concluded for nearly a decade, filmmakers have made virtually no progress in portraying more characters from non-white racial and ethnic identities. For African Americans, it was 12.5 percent to the Caucasian Americans 73.1 percent, but it gets even worse for minorities in TV and film with 5.3 percent for Asian Americans, 4.9 percent for Hispanic Americans and 4.2 percent were classified as “other”. Which is someone’s great heritage that was never validated? (Out of 30,000 Hollywood film characters, here’s how many weren’t white.)
I wanted to do a little more research, but instead of looking at numbers, I wanted someone whose real, so I watched an amazing interview on YouTube called the “Young Turks” and it was with Walter Jones. (Who is the man behind the Black power ranger) In this interview, he talks about his life as an actor and how he has been ‘type-casted’ as the Black Ranger and how, because it was a non-union job, he didn’t actually get the money that his character helped build into a franchise. But more importantly to this analysis, he talks about the lack of opportunities. He talks about how when he was a power ranger, things were okay. Even if the pay was bad, and the script was ‘hooky’ he was just happy that he could be a good guy instead of a bad guy. But then reality comes in very fast, because after he got kicked off the show with three other actors because they wanted the show to be a union show. Walter immediately started getting paid the same of money or less and he was bumped down to being a “Bad Guy” a “Murder” or anybody else that has “bad intentions”. What is telling is what he said after…he doesn’t want to be those things… a Doctor, an Astronaut, or a firefighter. However, unfortaunate as it is, most of the time African American men are not considered. In addition to not being considered the film industry is ever changing and one that’s currently moving away from Hollywood, which is where most of the actors live. (Walter Jones).
So the problems are there, the racism is there, the stereotypes of minorities’ specifically African American men shows that this is not a joke. Although we can keep talking about the “issues”, I wanted to look at how we address these problems. First, their needs to be much more black film networks, which shows people another perspective of African Americans, a much more realistic viewpoint. To easily bash the stigmas because there would be a product that would show a much more well-rounded perspective on African Americans and minorities in general. Such as only being show Chicago PD and people’s perspective on African Americans would make things so much harder. But when “The Wire” came out it would give a perspective that would battle it, which would create a much more well-rounded perspective. So with better stories and characters, African American men could be able to get jobs that reflect their life, and the struggles of their families, it would create a new market that rarely gets touched. Second, if theirs more work for black roles, African American screenwriters can emerge and create much more stories and roles and give hard-working artists that opportunity.
For me, all I ever wanted to do was make films that really matter to people. But being an African American screenwriter in college, I look at the industry and the world with such little progress. I’m always thinking, where’s the Future?
• SANTHANAM, LAURA, and MEGAN HICKEY. “Out of 30,000 Hollywood Film Characters, Here’s How Many Weren’t White.” PBS WTTW. PBS, Sept.-Oct. 2015. Web. 10 Apr. 2016..
• Nittle, Nadra Kareem. “5 Common Black Stereotypes in TV and Film.” About News. Zergnet, 8 Jan. 2016. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. .
• Smith, Darren T. “Entertaining While Black.”Http://www.darronsmith.com/2012/06/entertaining-while-black-the-depiction-of-black-males-in-popular-media-existing-while-black-in-america-series/. Pablo, 28 July 2012. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. .
• Walter Jones: The Man Behind The Black Power Ranger (Interview W/ Conk Uygur). Perf. Walter Jones and Cenk Uygur). YouTube, 15 Nov. 2015. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. .
• The Color of Sex: Postwar Photographic Histories of Race and Gender by: Catherine A. Lutz, Jane L. Collins n Reading National Geographic (1993), pp. 155-185 Key. 10 Apr. 2016