February 25, 2014

NYT: Blacks don't get enough Oscars for playing nonblacks

From the NYT:
Racial Barriers Still Hold Back Hollywood's Black Talent
By REUTERS FEB. 25, 2014, 8:15 P.M. E.S.T.

LOS ANGELES — When Halle Berry and Denzel Washington won the best-acting Oscar categories and Sidney Poitier was honored with a lifetime achievement award in 2002, the night was a watershed for black actors in Hollywood. 
Since then the debate about Hollywood diversity among the African American community has continued to ebb and flow, but one fact remains constant: nearly all black actors are still only being recognized by the Academy Awards for playing specifically black characters in film. 
... This year, three black actors will be vying for Oscars at the March 2 ceremony, and if "12 Years a Slave" wins best picture, it will be the first film by a black director to do so. 
But as black films and actors are being celebrated by Hollywood, there is no clear indication that the industry has turned the corner on increasing roles not based on race. 
That could be partly explained by the underrepresentation of black talent in senior positions in film studios and among the 6,000-plus members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who vote for the Oscars. 
"When roles in otherwise mainstream movies go to black actors that aren't necessarily written for (them), I think that's a point when there will have been some profile change," said Todd Boyd, a professor of critical studies at the University of Southern California and an expert on African American cinema and culture. "We are not there yet." 

Roles in mainstream movies do go to black actors that weren't originally written for them -- it's just that those kind of movies don't get Oscar recognition. Thirty years ago, Beverly Hills Cop was planned around Sylvester Stallone, but Eddie Murphy wound up playing the role. Murphy wasn't nominated for an Oscar in it, but then Stallone wouldn't have been either.

Murphy and Stallone have each only been nominated once, both for highly ethnically specific roles: Murphy for Dreamgirls and Stallone for Rocky.
Seven of the nine best-picture nominees in contention for an Oscar this year, including large ensemble casts in "American Hustle" and "The Wolf of Wall Street," do not have any black actors in leading or supporting roles.

American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street are both period pieces inspired by true stories of white collar criminality, so wouldn't it be racist to imply that blacks were involved?

Both are set in East Coast white ethnic milieus by East Coast white ethnic directors (David O. Russell and Martin Scorsese) who specialize in movies about non-Protestant whites.

And both movies are well-cast: would Kerry Washington really have been funnier than Jennifer Lawrence? Would Kevin Hart have been better than Jonah Hill as the drug-addicted cousin-marrying sleaze Donny Azoff?

The one piece of casting in either movies that is a little off is Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort (whom you can see introducing DiCaprio as himself in New Zealand at the end of Wolf). DiCaprio doesn't attempt a Long Island accent and it's not clear how the vaguely Slavic-looking DiCaprio is supposed to be Rob Reiner's son. (I had assumed from the trailer that Reiner would play Jonah Hill's dad.) But, other than the accent, DiCaprio works hilariously hard throughout the movie. If you want to see a famous movie star look like he's about to have an aneurysm, several times, well, The Wolf of Wall Street is just your ticket.
The two films that do, "Captain Phillips" and "12 Years a Slave," have landed acting nods for stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, who is up for best actor, and Lupita Nyong'o and Barkhad Abdi in the supporting categories. 
British actor Ejiofor and Kenyan-Mexican actress Nyong'o both play slaves in McQueen's pre-civil-war drama, while Somali-American newcomer Abdi, in his first acting role, portrays a Somali pirate who seizes command of a cargo ship.

In other words, African-Americans had a poor Oscar year, but non-American blacks had a very good one, but why talk about complications of ethnicity when we can talk about race and keep it simple: black and white?
More than 50 black actors and actresses have been nominated and won Oscars throughout the history of the Academy Awards. Most have done so for playing specifically black characters, either historical or fictional. 
Washington managed to play an alcoholic airplane pilot in "Flight," a role for which he was nominated for best actor in 2013. But that was one of the rare exceptions.

Terrific performance, fine movie. Washington's performance is pretty similar to DiCaprio's in terms of a big star working hard.

In general, though, movies with generic leading roles that could be filled by any ethnicity don't get as much Oscar attention. For example, Mark Wahlberg, a former Boston juvenile delinquent, is mostly a a non-specific leading man who competes for roles in commercial movies with other leading men. Most Mark Wahlberg movies don't get a lot of Oscar respect, but some of the ones where he stays closer to home, such as The Departed (Scorsese) and The Fighter (Russell) do.

Similarly, Will Smith competes with Tom Cruise for a lot of sci-fi roles as the Last Man on Earth and the like, but he's only been nominated twice for an Oscar, both times (Ali, Pursuit of Happyness) for biopics playing real life black characters. (Similarly, Tom Cruise hasn't been nominated since 2000.) Oscar voters are prejudiced in favor of detailed drawn-from-life roles, and are content to let the box office reward roles that either Will Smith or Tom Cruise could have played.
"Why couldn't there be an African American starring in the role that Joaquin Phoenix plays (in 'Her')?" said Boyd. "When you see that, then there's a change."

I'm not sure Professor Boyd understands what the W in SWPL stands for.

By the way, as usual, nobody is interested in Mexican-Americans.

74 comments:

Percy Gryce said...

Chiwetel Ejiofor has played major rolls that I doubt were specifically written for blacks in two films that I quite like: Joss Whedon's Serenity, where he is the urbane bad guy, and David Mamet's Red Belt, where he is the earnest good guy. Maybe it just takes a good actor.

peterike said...

Since race is a social construct and all that, and black actors often enough get to take historically white roles -- especially on the stage doing Shakespeare, or in "Thor" movies -- I look forward to the day when a white actor plays a black historical figure in a Hollywood film and everyone is totally cool with it.

Reg Cæsar said...

On the other hand, when the character is a homo, the actor never is.

The fact that this is never complained about by the likes of GLAAD leads me to believe it's actually orchestrated by them.

Cf. "The Kids Are Alright", which celebrates a criminal conspiracy against children which, in a civilized country, would earn the participants long, chilly prison terms.

(Now watch all the libertarian-bashers come at me with,"But it's their right!")

geschrei said...

I can think of quite a few African-Americans cast In high-profile roles in major Hollywood films (some even Oscar-worthy) where the characters they portrayed could have been of any race or ethnicity.

For example, Morgan Freeman as Ned in Unforgiven and Samuel L. Jackson as Ray Arnold in Jurassic Park. And, as mentioned in the post, many of Will Smith's starring roles have been race-neutral characters (I Am Legend and Enemy Of The State come instantly to mind, I'm sure there are others.)

This piece just sounds like it was written by someone hard at work grinding away, hoping that an axe will spontaneously appear.

Auntie Analogue said...


The Cultural Marxists just keep on coming up with no end of whining under the heading of YCMTSU. It is a sad commentary on Enemedia-Pravda's lack of wit, sense, and quality, and on their contemptible groveling to have Multi-Culti bona fides bestowed upon them, that they publish such tripe.

Anonymous said...

""""That could be partly explained by the underrepresentation of black talent in senior positions in film studios and among the 6,000-plus members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who vote for the Oscars.""""


Ya-ho. There's the money quote, nicely buried toward the center of the article. After decades upon decades of....how to tactfully say it.....influencing hollywood at most all levels of the creative process from executive, creative, agent levels etc. does anyone really, I mean REALLY think that a certain ethnic will just voluntarily decide to
do a Frank Capraesque style monologue changing of the guards such as this:


"Professor, you're right, you got us, dude! Paramounts front office? Go ahead, it's all yours! VP in charge of production? Take it, man! Columbia and Sony's Associate and Assistant Producer spots? The private offices have a new name on the door, even as we speak!

Yay for diversity, we don't really mind or care. After all, it's only money. True, we've had a hand (well, more than a hand actually) in controlling er influencing nearly every major creative decision that's taken place in Tinseltown since the 1920's, but we've come to realize that these African-American studies professors have really got something, and for once, we'd better listen up and follow their lead.

So in good faith as well as actual results, we're putting our feet where the promises are. We're heading out the door, but before we go, the majority of us are going to appoint African-Americans in charge at the highest levels of power.

After all, they do demand it from us and we like to think that we've got our fingers on the pulse of what Americans are really thinking as well as care about, yessiree, by gosh by golly.

So from all of us over at Hollywood, from Gower street all the way out in Culver City, (e.g. Eisner; Rubin; Goldberg; Goldstein; Silverstone; Silverberg; etc and et al) We're on our way out the door. We're leaving now and going back to the coast. From now on, Denzel, Leroy, Kerry, and Whoopi will be giving the orders, minding the store, and making the decisions. They're in charge so everyone just follow what they have to say since they're now in charge. Glad you all brought this to our attention, professor so and so."''''




Now then.

Does anyone,........ANYONE........think that that is going to happen just like that?

AND.....

That those in power, the powers that be that control and have controlled, run, and dominated hollywood at all levels for near a century, are going to just willingly pack up and replace themselves with African-Americans?


Boy, those crickets chirp awfully loud, don't they?



PS: I think that Steve wrote an article a while back about how the Hollywood front office, most of the executives in charge, don't even bother to watch black oriented/black produced movies, for the most part.

Wonder why? Especially if they green light the projects wonder why they dont bother to watch the actual finished projects for the most part?

Wonder why?

And THEY'RE the ones who are going to willingly replace themselves out of an executive job at the levels of power for....what? The cause of diversity?


I read things like that and think that maybe in CA those funny cigarettes have been legal for way more purposes than just medicinal since this prof clearly's on something.

Reg Cæsar said...


تم حفظ تعليقاتك وستكون معروضة بعد موافقة مالك المدونة الإلكترونية.
--Blogger

Why is Steve's blog in Studio City coming to me via the Burj Khalifa (".ae"), and what does this say? (I know you Arabists are reading this!)

Dave Pinsen said...

Caught Mark Wahlberg in Pain And Gain on cable over the weekend, in which he played a Cuban. Great script, and Michael Bay does a nice job with it, while throwing in homages to other films. The best movie about real life idiot Florida criminals since Bully. Over the end credits, they show photos of the actual criminals, and one, played by a black actor, is a Hispanic who doesn't look particularly black.

Wahlberg does a pretty good job of picking projects. He's not in many bad movies.

Anononymous said...

It would be really edgy to have the slaves played by whites and sadistic owners be blacks.

Anonymous said...

Similarly, Will Smith competes with Tom Cruise for a lot of sci-fi roles as the Last Man on Earth and the like, but he's only been nominated twice for an Oscar, both times (Ali, Pursuit of Happyness) for biopics playing real life black characters.

What about Morgan Freeman getting to play the real life white scientist who invented the prosthetic for that poor dolphin?

Anonymous said...

Steve:"Both are set in East Coast white ethnic milieus by East Coast white ethnic directors (David O. Russell and Martin Scorsese) who specialize in movies about non-Protestant whites."

Interesting, Russell comes from an Italian/Russian Jewish background:

"Russell was born in New York City to Bernard and Maria (née Muzio) Russell. His father was a sales executive for Simon & Schuster.[1][2][3] His father was from a Russian Jewish family and his mother was Italian American. Russell's maternal grandparents were Frank Muzio, born in Craco, Matera, Italy, and Philomena Brancata, born in Ferrandina, Matera, Italy.[4] He was raised in an atheist household." (WIKIPEDIA)

Anonymous said...

It would be really edgy to have the slaves played by whites and sadistic owners be blacks.

Along those lines, John Travolta starred in 1995's White Man's Burden.

White Man's Burden is a 1995 dramatic film about racism in an alternative America where black and white Americans have reversed cultural roles.

Reg Cæsar said...

By the way, as usual, nobody is interested in Mexican-Americans.

You mean they still use Japanese gardeners out there? Some traditions survive!

Harry Baldwin said...

Reg Cæsar said...On the other hand, when the character is a homo, the actor never is. The fact that this is never complained about by the likes of GLAAD leads me to believe it's actually orchestrated by them.

The T-people want T-actors to play the T-roles from now on. From the
LA Times:

"Jared Leto is getting kudos for playing a transgender person in “Dallas Buyer’s Club,” out Friday. But wouldn’t it have been better if the starring role had gone to an actual trans person?

"Trans people are portrayed in movies and on TV more and more these days, and that’s a positive development. Yet most of these characters are played by actors who are not transgender. It is no longer acceptable to cast cross-racially, so why is it acceptable to cast someone who is not transgender in a transgender role?"

Harry Baldwin said...

It would be really edgy to have the slaves played by whites and sadistic owners be blacks.

Yeah! It could be set in AD 2050.

Wahlberg does a pretty good job of picking projects. He's not in many bad movies.

Yes, but every time I watch him in a film I can't figure out how he became a leading man. His screen presence seems more suitable to supporting roles. (Just my opinion.)

Reg Cæsar said...

It would be really edgy to have the slaves played by whites and sadistic owners be blacks. --Anononymous [sic-- and sick, if this screen name is a reference to buggery]

I'll bet that was done decades ago by these folks. They're right across the street from that Somali fistfight in the "center" named for an AIDS victim.

Chicago said...

How about a movie based on the life of Thomas Pellow, a British youth captured and enslaved in Morocco by Sultan Moulay Ismail, along with thousands of other European captives? The Sultan used brutal black Africans as slave drivers. It might provide a nice switch from the usual stereotypical roles that the public has been seeing all too much of.

Reg Cæsar said...

The T-people want T-actors to play the T-roles from now on. --Harry Baldwin

I was hoping to see Chaz Bono and Alexis Arquette portray Fred and Wilma Flintstone. But now they can play themselves. Or each other.

Soundtrack by Walter/Wendy Carlos.

Dave Pinsen said...

When The Perfect Storm came out, Sebastian Junger, who wrote the book, said Wahlberg was believable as a New England fisherman but his costar George Clooney was too handsome to be believable as anything but an actor.

Dave Pinsen said...

Incidentally, speaking of Wahlberg, in two movies in 2013, Pain And Gain and the mediocre Broken City, he was cast alongside Israeli blonde supporting actresses, a coincidence I only realized after checking IMDB to see who the actresses were. The one in Broken City had a flawless American accent and the one in Pain And Gain, playing an Eastern European stripper, had a believable sounding accent for that role.

Jefferson said...

" it's not clear how the vaguely Slavic-looking DiCaprio is supposed to be Rob Reiner's son."

In a world where some Black people have Caucasian looking children, it is really that far fetched that Rob Reiner could be the father of Leonardo DiCaprio ?

Johnny Depp for example has a blonde haired and blue eyed daughter ? According to your logic, she must be adopted. After all Johnny does not exactly look like the epitome of a Nordic Aryan.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Olivier was never cast as Othello, peterike.

It was news when Othello was finally played by black performers.

Darn facts!

Anonymous said...

In a world where some Black people have Caucasian looking children, it is really that far fetched that Rob Reiner could be the father of Leonardo DiCaprio ?

Johnny Depp for example has a blonde haired and blue eyed daughter ? According to your logic, she must be adopted. After all Johnny does not exactly look like the epitome of a Nordic Aryan.


Arguing against general rules via exceptions to them is a beginner's mistake.

Anonymous said...

What about Morgan Freeman getting to play the real life white scientist who invented the prosthetic for that poor dolphin?

Seems to be a burgeoning trend. Off the top of my head-

• Denzel Washington as “John Creasy” (physically modeled on Robert Mitchum in the novel) in Man on Fire.

• Will Smith as “James West” in Wild Wild West.

• Will Smith as “Robert Neville" in I Am Legend.

• Idris Elba as “Heimdal” (in Norse mythology the “whitest of the gods”) in Thor.

• Marlon Wayans as “Ripcord” (originally white and red-haired) in G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra.

• Idris Elba as “Captain Janek” (presumably initially characterized as a white man) in Prometheus.

• Jamil Walker Smith as “Ron Grier” (originally written as an explicitly Slavic man named Ron "Psycho" Stasiak) in Stargate Universe.

• Will Smith as “Agent Jay” in Men in Black.

• Jamie Foxx as “Electro” in The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

• Angel Coulby as “Guinevere” in the BBC’s Merlin.

• David Harewood as “Friar Tuck” in the BBC’s Robin Hood.

• Jeffrey Wright as “Felix Leiter” in Casino Royale.

• Denzel Washington as “Don Pedro” in Much Ado About Nothing.

Any others come to mind?

Dave Pinsen said...

There was of course Morgan Freeman cast as the judge in the neutered movie version of Bonfire of the Vanities, which subverted one of the themes of the book, about the clock ticking on a white Democratic political establishment running an increasingly black and brown electorate.

And, come to think of it, back in 1984, there was a black NASA chief in the 2001 sequel.

Dave Pinsen said...

Ejiofor, an Anglo-Nigerian, has a range that most African American actors don't have. Denzel Washington has it, and Lawrence Fishburne has it, but not, say, Samuel L. Jackson, who always sounds like a distinctly black American, even when playing a Jedi Knight.

Jefferson said...

"Arguing against general rules via exceptions to them is a beginner's mistake."

Have you ever seen Leonardo Dicaprio's real father ? His father looks like he would blend right in Israel, Greece, Armenia, Georgia, or Lebanon for example.

There is nothing remotely WASP looking about Leo's biological father.

So it is not unrealistic at all to cast a Non WASP to play Leo's father.

Anonymous said...

"Yeah, Olivier was never cast as Othello, peterike."""

Uh, NO, YES he was. He played Othello in the 1965 film version AND was also Oscar nominated for it.



"""It was news when Othello was finally played by black performers."""""

Right, because Othello was Moorish (Arabians had by then conquered North Africa) and Berbers and Arabians are generally part of the Caucasian race.

It really wasn't about a Guess Who's Coming to Dinner Stanley Kramer Production that you seem to be implying.


""Darn facts!""

Which were just presented to you. Also, you DO know that the author of the play, Shakespeare, was a white man. You do know that, right??


NOW THEN.

Let's try it the other way around.

Suppose we decide to produce a biopic of Martin Luther King and a new and improved one on Malcolm X.

To play Malcolm X we will cast in the title role......Leonardo DiCaprio.

To play MLK, we will cast in the main role....as MLK.......Robert Downey, Jr.

Downey has an amazing range and he's more than a capable actor and he can well manage the part.

After all, by your own logic, race is a construct and it doesn't matter what color an actor is so long as he is talented enough to play the part.

RIGHT??

Anonymous said...

>>David Pinsen said:
"""Lawrence Fishburne has it."""

If you say so. A bit over done.

David, David. Let's just get to it, the elephant in the room so to speak.

Translation of your main point: Most black actors if they are indeed products of their culture (being black) have to lose the ebonics dialect of which the vast majority of blacks speak with (say roughly about 90% slightly above that actually but rounded down to 90%)

No, obviously, they're not all as bad as Rachel Jeantel, but you get the idea.

And as more and more hip hop, rap, R&B entertainers (who tend to be black) do the cross over into Hollywood, the tendency is to keep it real and maintain their ebonics while acting.

Of course, for many, it's not so easily a dialect to lose. It's the Pygmalion dilemma.

Do they keep it real and keep their cred with their community or do they lose it and perhaps gain the white dollars?

Notice it isn't easy to find many black actors who can speak "white" English which is why some are starting to cast Canadians and black-Brits who can tone down their down market cockney and come out sounding somewhat American enough to pass for the ideal black actor for whites.

Example of the ideal universal black actor: Sydney Poitier.

Simon in London said...

Blacks seem to be over-represented in Hollywood movies, and Mexican-Americans under-represented. Since the black actors seem to be about as good as the white actors the former at least is probably more due to talent (and possibly motivation) rather than casting bias, I suspect.
Of course in NYT-world there is no such thing as 'black over-representation'.

Anonymous said...

It's true that black actors get to play a larger variety or roles than they ever have before, but they rarely get the chance to play what is usually the most interesting role in the film- that of the villain.

Anonymous said...

"Chiwetel Ejiofor has played major rolls that I doubt were specifically written for blacks in two films that I quite like: Joss Whedon's Serenity, where he is the urbane bad guy, and David Mamet's Red Belt, where he is the earnest good guy. Maybe it just takes a good actor."

Although the primary purpose of the slavery narrative is as a cultural weapon against White people I think it has a negative effect on Black people as well which doesn't impact recent African immigrants as much or at all.

Anonymous said...

""""That could be partly explained by the underrepresentation of black talent in senior positions in film studios and among the 6,000-plus members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who vote for the Oscars.""""

Quite.

Booker T. Washington was right. You need to have your own sealed ecosystem where your own talent can come through to the top or you can't evolve.

Hunsdon said...

Slightly off topic, but Tim Gunn---yes, Tim Gunn, the witty, urbane, dapper mentor on "Project Runway"---is a deeply bigoted man who is insensitive to the plight of the differently gendered.

http://www.salon.com/2014/02/24/tim_gunn_says_he_feels_conflicted_about_transgender_models/

This world, I don't even recognize it any more.

Zippy said...

To the Anonymous who said black actors don't get to play villains: as somebody else pointed out Chiwetel Ejiofor played "The Operative" in Serenity, quite possibly the best sci-fi villain since Darth Vader.

Who, of course, was voiced by James Earl Jones, even though Vader himself is supposed to be white.

Mr. Anon said...

Given enough time, as Hollywood remakes every movie it has ever made, Will Smith will get a chance to play plenty of white people.

I am still awaiting a remake of "Birth of a Nation" with Smith cast as "The Klansman".

The writer of this piece of hand-wringing is full of it. Denzel Washington, Lawrence Fishburne, Giancarlo Esposito, Dennis Haysbert, Delroy Lindo, and Keith David (fine actors all) have all played plenty of roles that were "white" or non-race specific.

Harry Baldwin said...

By the way, as usual, nobody is interested in Mexican-Americans.

Shhh. We have to be vewy, vewy quiet while another 40 million sneak in.

Miguel S. said...

"Coming to America" has had much more longevity than "Rain Man." It's also a much better movie. The Academy is just like the Nobel Committee.

Cail Corishev said...

Isn't the obvious cause here that the left-leaning folks who give out the awards only really notice black actors and feel compelled to reward them when they're "being black" and advancing the Narrative somehow? In fact, if a great black actor routinely took roles that didn't tackle race issues in some way, it's very likely that he would get criticized for shirking his duty. I'm pretty sure that's happened, actually; Bill Cosby could probably attest to it.

This topic always takes me back to the great Cosby/Poitier movie "Let's Do It Again." In the commentary, the screenwriter and a black movie critic reminisce about the network of black actors and comedians that was developing at the time and making films that portrayed a genuine black culture and helped young black performers get started. They make it sound like something valuable was happening there, and (though they don't say it) something was lost when the best black actors got skimmed off to add diversity to mainstream movies.

Anonymous said...

Tom Cruise's last Oscar nomination was for his scenery chewing portrayal of the "Seduce and Destroy" PUA Frank T. J. Mackey in Magnolia. It was a truly manic inspired take on a real PUA.

So yes it fits the mode of white & black actors winning recognition for being able to stretch their wings in roles in which they are both comfortable and familiar with racially.

Are their Black PUAs? Yeah, but they are going to have their own style that will take a black screenwriter/director to bring to life. But doing so would require bucking the PC media both black and white.

Anonymous said...

There is nothing remotely WASP looking about Leo's biological father.

I think if you look you'll note that Steve made the point that DiCaprio doesn't really look like a WASP either.

Cail Corishev said...

On the other hand, when the character is a homo, the actor never is. The fact that this is never complained about by the likes of GLAAD leads me to believe it's actually orchestrated by them.

That makes sense; they want homosexual characters portrayed by normal-seeming, familiar people, to further the myth that gays are identical to straights except for that one tiny issue of orientation. It's more important to them to change mass opinion than to get a few more high-paying jobs for their members. (Besides, they get the jobs from the other direction, having gays play straights, which serves the same purpose.)

Trans-people, on the other hand, are just crazy, and don't have the self-restraint to embark on a 20-year journey from ridicule to tolerance to acceptance. They want on that stage now, and they're not going to be quiet about it.

Cail Corishev said...

It's true that black actors get to play a larger variety or roles than they ever have before, but they rarely get the chance to play what is usually the most interesting role in the film- that of the villain.

Well, sure. Can you imagine being a movie producer, being asked to spend millions on a movie and being told the villain will be black? That could go wrong in so many ways. If he's too over-the-top evil, you're perpetuating stereotypes; if he's too boring, you tried to whitewash him. There would be little to gain and a lot to lose, unless you had a particular actor in mind for a particular part and couldn't imagine anyone else doing it.

Also, if you only put blacks into good-guy roles, pretty soon all you have is actors who are good at those roles, and they may make terrible villains. Not many actors are equally good at both.

James Kabala said...

"the vaguely Slavic-looking DiCaprio is supposed to be Rob Reiner's son."

It wasn't too long ago that Rob Reiner played a Slav on TV for seven years.

"Right, because Othello was Moorish (Arabians had by then conquered North Africa) and Berbers and Arabians are generally part of the Caucasian race."

Othello is called a Moor but at other times described as not only "black" but as "thick lips." His actual race is ambiguous. We have no record of how he was portrayed on stage in the 17th century, unfortunately, but he was portrayed as sub-Saharan in the 18th century. Then he was usually an Arab in the 19th and early 20th, after which the pendulum swung back again.

Wikipedia has a pretty neutral assessment: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Othello#Race

David said...

>Olivier was never cast as Othello.<

Point taken, but I think he was the last one. His portrayal was criticized as racist and he was astonished by this, according to Christopher Plummer's recently published memoirs (a good read).

Stilicho said...

When you base an entire sub-industry on token representation of minorities, those minorities are going to have a tough time being taken seriously because the default, natural assumption will always be that they are there due to tokenism and not due to merit.

Jerry said...

Slightly OT perhaps, but I just watched Wolf of Wall Street, or at least some of it, and I was not just disgusted but bewildered by how this utter piece of trash could be considered respectable entertainment. I am fairly inured to all the modern movie habits, and American Hustle was enjoyable, but this...

What is the point of talking white vs. black when the entire culture has become a sewer? It's not going to get any better until the wheels come off, as someone (here?) said the other day.

Jefferson said...

"they rarely get the chance to play what is usually the most interesting role in the film- that of the villain."

Even if the film takes place in Detroit, you still will not see a Black villain. Even though Detroit's racial demographics are closer to that of Haiti than it is to most of The United States.

Only in Hollyweird, do Detroit villains look closer to Daniel Day Lewis in phenotype than they do to Don Cheadle.

C. Van Carter said...

"Todd Boyd, a professor of critical studies at the University of Southern California and an expert on African American cinema and culture."

Click the link and see if the esteemed professor is exactly how you imagined.

Anonymous said...

"""Although the primary purpose of the slavery narrative is as a cultural weapon against White people I think it has a negative effect on Black people as well which doesn't impact recent African immigrants as much or at all."""


True enough, but after a half century of using this cultural weapon, it really doesn't affect white people either. Why would it? That happened nearly 150yrs ago before anyone living RIGHT NOW were born. How does slavery affect right now? Answer: It doesnt, unless you let it. And the only ones who dont want to let it go are blacks.

Most white people are kinda over it. It's like "Yeah, but didn't that happen a long time ago? Like way before my great grandparents were even born? Besides, I don't own slaves nor did my parents. It's right now that counts."

And the whites move on. It's the blacks who can't move on for some reason. Have any African Americans born within the last half century been born into slavery that we're not aware of??

stephen king said...

Morgan Freeman as co-star and narrator in Shawshank Redemption.

In the book the character's name (Red) was based on his hair color.

Thankfully the great Morgan Freeman was able to step up to the role and the world was saved from having to watch/listen to a ginger.

Anonymous said...

"Johnny Depp for example has a blonde haired and blue eyed daughter ?"

The hair and eyes of children of European descent usually get darker in adolescence. This is where the phrase "baby blue" comes from. Blue eyes (and blonde hair) are more common in white children than in white adults.

Geoff Matthews said...

I always wondered about the likelihood of a black man being holed up with whites in a Maine prison during the early 1900s. Was Red (in Shawshank Redemption) supposed to be black?
Certainly, Nick Fury (from the Marvel Universe) is white in the comic books, but SLJ was convincingly cast as him. Liam Neeson would have been a good choice as well.
SLJ as the scientist with the killer sharks (title?) could have gone either way.
Really, with 'historical' films, getting the character's race correct is appropriate. Whites should never play Malcolm X, MLKjr, etc.
But having a black actor, even a fine actor, play a white scientist (the aforementioned dolphin prosthesis film) does seem somewhat inappropriate.

sunbeam said...

Sometimes you can change a character's race and it works.

For whatever reason Samuel L. Jackson works very well as Nick Fury.

Someone mentioned Will Smith. It's been a pet idea of mine for a while, but I think he was born to play Jim Rockford. I'm sure you couldn't get him to do a TV series, but I bet he would nail the role in a movie.

Anonymous said...

>>Geoff Matthews:
""SLJ as the scientist with the killer sharks (title?) could have gone either way.""

Hold it, hold it. The best casting is based in real world situations. How many actual black scientists are there in America? As a percentage of the total number of scientists in America?

About what....2% at most? 1%? Are there as many black scientists as say, other minorities, other ethnics?

Answer: No.

So really. That's a nod at political correctness and nothing more. Can you imagine the outrage if you didn't ever cast a black actor in those "smart" roles? Jesse and Al notice those type of things, don't they?



""""Really, with 'historical' films, getting the character's race correct is appropriate."""""

It depends. It used to be done for casting reasons.



"""Whites should never play Malcolm X, MLKjr, etc."""


All right then be consistent. If you can't cast whites in those roles (whiy not though? Isnt the main goal to get the best actor for the role?? That's called consistency.) Then you have to NOT cast blacks in historically traditional roles that are well known to be caucasians.

Example: Norse God mythology was based in Scandanavia at a time where absolutely no blacks lived, period. Thor = Aryan Nordic white dude as lily albino white as possible.

What reason, other than an agenda, political correctness, does it serve to give that role to a black? Answer: No reason, except to send a PC message.



"""But having a black actor, even a fine actor, play a white scientist (the aforementioned dolphin prosthesis film) does seem somewhat inappropriate.""""


Finally you see it. Because you don't see many black scientists in the real world, real life.

Think about it. This whole month of black history, how many black scientists that took a leading role in a major scientific field have been highlighted?

Answer: Verrryyyy few at all. GWCarver has been dead since '43. Name some more that are as famous.

There aren't many, especially when compared to other ethnics. Wonder why that is?

And, don't you think that if there were tons and tons out there that black history month wouldn't prominently display them for all to see? Of course they would.


Anonymous said...

Jefferson:"Even if the film takes place in Detroit, you still will not see a Black villain. Even though Detroit's racial demographics are closer to that of Haiti than it is to most of The United States.

Only in Hollyweird, do Detroit villains look closer to Daniel Day Lewis in phenotype than they do to Don Cheadle."

One of the weirder aspects of the highly enjoyable original ROBOCOP is its bizarre demographics. Crime in future Detroit is, apparently, run almost entirely by White people....

David said...

>[black actors] rarely get the chance to play what is usually the most interesting role in the film- that of the villain<

True.

One of those rare instances is Chiwetel Ejiofor's turn as The Operative in "Serenity," as someone mentioned. To have audiences rooting for a strong white hero against a strong black villain was remarkable. The movie is let down mainly by the "ass-kicking girl" trope (I don't care what sci-fi mumbo-jumbo is supposed to explain her super grrrl power - this just sucked).

I think Scorcese ought to pull a Spielberg and do a big-screen MLK biopic. With DiCaprio as Martin.

Cail Corishev said...

The Operative in Serenity isn't the villian, though; he's...the villain's operative. (The villain is pretty much the faceless bureaucracy of the Alliance.) While the viewer knows the Operative is working for the bad guys, he doesn't, and he's presented as fighting for what he thinks is right and following a strict sort of warrior's code even though it makes his job harder.

That's far from the scenery-chewing white European villains we get, who generally establish their villainous bona fides through gratuitous killing and torture and traitorous behavior.

I'm no movie expert, but I can't think of a black villain of that Rickman-in-Die-Hard sort.

Anonymous said...

Certainly, Nick Fury (from the Marvel Universe) is white in the comic books, but SLJ was convincingly cast as him. Liam Neeson would have been a good choice as well.

There was an actual rationale behind that, though. In the Ultimates series of comics which rebooted various aspects of the Marvel universe and which the Marvel films draw partial inspiration from, author Mark Millar wanted to model Nick Fury after Jackson (at least, to hear him tell it), because he reasoned that Jackson represented a modern icon of "cool" in the way that Carey Grant (the original model for Fury in the 50s/60s) had back in the day, with Jackson granting the rights to his likeness on the condition that he be given first crack at playing Fury if the character should ever appear in a movie.

Now, one can argue the relative coolness of Grant vs. Jackson to one's heart's content, but at the very least, there was some kind of reasoning process behind the portrayal beyond simply "because diversity".

Anonymous said...

The Operative in Serenity isn't the villian, though; he's...the villain's operative. (The villain is pretty much the faceless bureaucracy of the Alliance.) While the viewer knows the Operative is working for the bad guys, he doesn't, and he's presented as fighting for what he thinks is right and following a strict sort of warrior's code even though it makes his job harder.

That's far from the scenery-chewing white European villains we get, who generally establish their villainous bona fides through gratuitous killing and torture and traitorous behavior.


True enough. One episode of the TV series did feature a "Jubal Early" (named, ironically, after a Confederate general whom Nathan Fillion claims descent from), who was a sort of sociopath bounty hunter who looked and sounded rather like Obama, but that's not quite the same thing (and while he did threaten to rape one of the female members of the crew to force their compliance, he was also portrayed, like the Operative, as being tough and smart and skilled enough to neutralize the whole crew before the psychic girl starts playing with his head).

I'm no movie expert, but I can't think of a black villain of that Rickman-in-Die-Hard sort.

Yeah, no one's really coming to mind. I know Morgan Freean played the chief villain in Wanted, but I've never seen it and so have no idea of how much scenery he chewed, if any).

Anonymous said...

"Right, because Othello was Moorish (Arabians had by then conquered North Africa) and Berbers and Arabians are generally part of the Caucasian race.
"

That has been hashed out. He was, indeed,meant to be "negroid", not Arabic or "Moorish." Arablic or Moorish would never have had the same effect. Hey, many Italians and Spaniards looked somewhat "Arab." The description is of a sub-Saharan African, and the earliest drawings confirm that. The play actually dates from an earlier version done in the 13th century, in Italy. Shakespear borrowed relentlessly, life all great artists.

Anonymous said...

To follow up the previous comment concerning Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury, the trailers for the next Captain America film very prominently feature a battered Fury telling blond, blue-eyed Cap that "it looks like you're in charge now".

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised Steve didn't work in a reference to Telley Savalas Otieno as Gustaf Mannerheim in "The Marshal of Finland."

Cail Corishev said...

The Rockford Files is the last show I can think of that didn't bend over backwards to show blacks in a positive light. It didn't feature many in the first place, but the two most memorable black guest stars were an amoral con man (played by Lou Gossett Jr.) and an ex-con bruiser (Isaac Hayes) who had beaten his wife so much that she committed suicide to frame him for her murder.

But that was the 1970s. As someone said (must have been in another thread), that changed quickly in the 1980s.

Maxwell Power said...

Will Smith in the film adaptation of "Six Degrees of Separation" actually did an exceptional take; arguably not the most complex role, as he's meant to be an impostor, but it impressed me more on the second viewing years later. His turn to pseudo-heavy bogus blockbusters every other year, like Ali or that Scientology one, the profitability of which I can't fathom, is a waste of the pompous-but-funny macho shtick he cultivated in the first "Bad Boys" (sort of like Bruce Willis without the depression)

Mr. Anon said...

"Cail Corishev said...

I'm no movie expert, but I can't think of a black villain of that Rickman-in-Die-Hard sort."

Giancarlo Esposito was exceptionally villainous playing Gus Fring in "Breaking Bad".

Anonymous said...

>[black actors] rarely get the chance to play what is usually the most interesting role in the film- that of the villain<

Great line. Others have done it to death. So I'll just say 'heh.'

Gilbert P.

Pete Zapye said...

There's one obvious scenery-chewing black villain - Yaphet Kotto in 'Live And Let Die.' Bond isn't exactly Hollywood, I know, but still a major, mainstream movie series.

Cail Corishev said...

And "Live and Let Die" was 1973. I looked up a couple of "100 great movie villains list," and the main other one I found was James Earl Jones as Darth Vader. Yeah, kind of a stretch, but technically I'd say he counts as a true villain -- established in 1977. Wonder if they would have cast him in that part if the first movie had come a decade later.

Come to think of it, Jones also played the villain in 1982's "Conan the Barbarian." In that, though, according to the commentary, they used contacts and makeup to try to make him look like no identifiable race at all, so he would seem other-worldly.

The only other ones I found post-1980 were Denzel Washington in "Training Day," where he plays a corrupt cop -- not exactly a classic villain, but at least a bad guy -- and Ving Raimes in "Pulp Fiction" as a mobster (didn't see it). Pretty slim pickings.

melendwyr said...

"To the Anonymous who said black actors don't get to play villains: as somebody else pointed out Chiwetel Ejiofor played "The Operative" in Serenity, quite possibly the best sci-fi villain since Darth Vader."

And don't forget 'Jubal Early', the unforgettable villain present for only a single episode of Firefly. Stunning writing and acting. I'd almost say that the actor's being black was totally irrelevant, but I suspect the scene where he uses the threat of rape to intimidate the young female (white) ship's mechanic wouldn't have had quite the same resonance with a white actor. And yet it was all tastefully and elegantly done.

Cail Corishev said...

Yes, Jubal Early was an excellent performance by the black lawyer from the early Law & Order seasons. Just crazed enough to be really menacing without being a caricature.

Thing is, you can do that for one episode of a TV series. If people complain, you can throw them a black hero in a future episode to balance things out. It'd be a much bigger risk to make a character like that the villain of a feature film, where there's buzz and interviews for months in advance and these things get scrutinized much more closely.

It's too bad, because there are certainly black actors who could make good villains. But I can see why filmmakers don't risk it.

Pete Zapye said...

Cail Corishev - indeed. Further "mitigation" of Live and Let Die is that it was the height of the blaxploitation era, and it was an adaptation of an existing Fleming novel - it's questionable whether it would have been written as an original script in the 1970s.

You're right - apart from the few you mention there are hardly any. Danny Glover plays a murderous cop in "Witness", but he's just a henchman of a worse senior cop, who is white. The Ving Rhames character in Pulp Fiction is a bad guy but a respectable one, and becomes a hero after being kidnapped and raped by two white perverts. He promises to wreak explicitly racial vengeance on one of them and the audience whoops and hollers in delight as the evil white sicko gets his comeuppance (at least that's Tarantino's intention).

Pfft... what else? Samuel L. Jackson robbing a fast food joint in "Coming to America"? I have a vague impression Wesley Snipes has played some bad guys but his career has pretty much passed me by so I couldn't identify them if he has. No, there's almost nothing.

The TV series "Oz" is worth a mention. Almost everyone in it is a bad guy, of course, but it doesn't pull many punches in its depiction of Simon Adebisi and various other AfrAm thugs and gangsters. But TV isn't film and slightly different "rules" tend to apply.

Anonymous said...

I looked up DiCaprio's dad and thought "Ringo Starr"!

Having said that British port cities like Liverpool have long had a slightly unusual ethnic mix. eg Bristol and east end of London.

Anonymous said...

Danny Glover plays a murderous cop in "Witness", but he's just a henchman of a worse senior cop, who is white.

Glover also played a villain in Shooter, getting himself gunned down by Mark Wahlberg as a Southern backwoodsman and former Marine sniper named, of all things, "Bob Lee Swagger", though Glover was again merely second banana to Ned Beatty's corrupt senator, plus the film had the added wiggle room of Michael Pena as "Nick Memphis", Swagger's faithful sidekick, a plot revolving around the assassination of an African bishop attempting to reveal a murderous plot by US oil companies in Africa, and being directed by a black man, Antoine Fuqua.

Fuqua's an interesting case, though. He also directed the aforementioned Training Day, plus King Arthur (which I can't comment on, other than to say that lily-white post-Roman Britain seems like a fairly unusual setting for a black director to work with), Tears of the Sun, which made fairly explicit reference to the tribal and often brutal nature of politics in Africa (and the bad guys are shown killing Christian missionaries for the hell of it), and Olympus Has Fallen which, with its (white) President and Secret Service agent heroes, stood in interesting contrast to its terrorists-capture-the-President competitor, Roland Emerich's White House Down featuring Jamie Foxx as the POTUS and semi-professional wigger Channing Tatum as his rescuer.