Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Not So "Blind Side" of Race in Hollywood

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Give us us free! Free from Hollywood's notion of race, that is.

There are certain genres of films that Hollywood likes to produce over and over again: the romantic comedy where the dumb guy finally realizes he loves the girl five minutes before the credits roll and is forced to do the obligatory profession of love in [insert embarrassing public venue here]; the horror/thriller movie that (supposedly) keeps you guessing who the killer is until the end; the comic book adaptation summer blockbuster movie; and of course, the lovable computer animated insect/animal/toy/etc. Included among this list of usual suspects is the Hollywood "feel good" story about race in which the star White actor/actress invariably saves the stereotypically helpless Black characters from their naturally downtrodden predicament.

When it comes to race on the Big Screen, it seems that Hollywood is only interested in showing the Black Community in one of two ways: (1) in slapstick comedies where Blacks act ignorant, use superfluous amounts of slang, and play out every ghetto stereotype in the book; or (2) as helpless victims who can't do anything for themselves and can only be saved by the heroic White protagonist. There isn't enough time in the day to dignify #(1), so this post will be limited to the discussion of #(2).

Hollywood's latest #(2)-type movie is The Blind Side (clip below), which is based on the true story of B-more Ravens player Michael Oher and the white family who took him in (the mom is played by Sandra Bullock). Don't get me wrong, this is not an indictment on Mr. Oher or the family who helped him along the way. I'm happy Oher is doing well and kudos to the family for showing humanity to this brother. My beef, however, is specifically with the fact that Hollywood seems to be stuck on this notion that Blacks are helpless creatures that can only be saved by the White man, or Woman as the case may have it. Of course, we all know this isn't true (at least I'd like to think that) so why is this scenario one of the only scenarios you continuously produce about Black people, Hollywood? Hollywood, why are you eager to produce movies like this with the quickness, but movies like "Do The Right Thing," "The Great Debaters," "Malcolm X" or "Love Jones" either have to be produced independently or, if you do produce them, they receive significantly less support or distribution?

The reason I take such issue with this depiction of Blacks by Hollywood is because it has real-life implications in our day to day lives. For instance, when I attended college at my beloved alma matter, The University of Kansas, I stayed in a dorm where I was literally the first Black person that many of my fellow freshmen had ever met in real life. Their only knowledge of Blacks for their 18 years of life on this planet had not been formed by personal interaction, but rather by what they saw on TV, read in books, and yes, what they saw in movies. How do I convince a fellow classmate that we are intellectual equals when throughout all of his life he has been inundated with feel-good stories of how he must save me and all people like me?

I understand that the bottom line for Hollywood is the almighty dollar. Hollywood will, of course, produce whatever it feels will sell for a profit. Producers need to make their investments back; this is understandable. That being the case, are we to understand that feel-good stories where Blacks save themselves are NOT profitable? If that were true then how does one explain the success of Antoine Fisher or The Great Debaters? Both of these films are but a few examples of highly profitable films (bringing in $23 Million and $30 Million respectively) which portray Blacks in a positive light.

Hollywood, if your argument is that Black movie-goers will not come out to support Black films, then I direct your attention to a guy you might have heard of by the name of Tyler Perry, who alone provides an example that not only disproves that argument but shatters it. His first movie alone, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, was produced for $5.5 Million and made $50.6 Million at the box office. Much of that support came solely from the Black Community.

So if we know that Blacks can and will go to the movies in large numbers, and we know that movies that portray Blacks as self-sufficient and sophisticated can and will be profitable, then I ask you, what is the deal with the whole "Only White People Can Save Us" genre? For extra credit, what does the constant selection of this type of film say about the state of race relations in America today?

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