What It’s Really Like to Work in Hollywood*
February 24, 2016 8:18 AM   Subscribe

What It’s Really Like to Work in Hollywood* (*If you’re not a straight white man.) (SLNYTimes, Interactive)
posted by roomthreeseventeen (30 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
What an excellent article. I'm reminded of Margaret Cho's stand-up where she talks about how the producers on "All-American Girl" told her she needed to lose weight in order to play herself.
posted by xingcat at 8:35 AM on February 24, 2016 [11 favorites]


I went to this arts high school in Greenville, S.C. In speech class, the teacher, a white man, would say you’re talking ghetto, don’t talk ghetto.

I know this arts high school (I went there for creative writing in 1993) and I am pretty sure I know who this teacher is. How disgusting to say that to her.
posted by Kitteh at 8:39 AM on February 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


For “Deep Impact,” Mimi Leder, the director, wanted to cast Morgan as the president, and somebody at the studio said, we’re not making a science-fiction movie; you can’t have Morgan Freeman play the president.
I hope Morgan Freeman calls that guy up like once a month and says "Hi, this is Morgan Freeman again. Remember when I couldn't play the President? I've played God since then, motherfucker."
posted by Etrigan at 8:50 AM on February 24, 2016 [35 favorites]


For “Deep Impact,” Mimi Leder, the director, wanted to cast Morgan as the president, and somebody at the studio said, we’re not making a science-fiction movie; you can’t have Morgan Freeman play the president.

Who is this racist at the studio who didn't think a movie about an asteroid destroying the earth was a science-fiction movie?
posted by The World Famous at 9:12 AM on February 24, 2016 [18 favorites]


“I couldn’t put you in a Shakespeare movie, because they didn’t have black people then.” should be a bumper sticker.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:14 AM on February 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


Anyone discussing Shakespeare who is not familiar with Othello is a joke. Any producer making a film based on Shakespeare who is not familiar with Aaron from Titus Andronicus and The Prince of Morocco in The Merchant of Venice should be fired.
posted by maxsparber at 9:19 AM on February 24, 2016 [8 favorites]


JIMMY SMITS: A [high school drama teacher] would take us to see plays. Two people jolted me — James Earl Jones and Raúl Juliá. James Earl Jones [once had] a speech impediment, and that doesn’t stop him from dealing with verse or emotions — I’m getting emotional [tears up]. And Raúl was from the same place my mother was from, he spoke with an accent, and he just had a gusto when he was up there. I was like, those two guys really were doing it. You could do this. It’s like: permission to aspire; permission granted.

This got me right in the feels.
posted by pjsky at 9:21 AM on February 24, 2016 [16 favorites]


Anyone discussing Shakespeare who is not familiar with Othello is a joke.

I loved Othello when I saw it in high school, and it was not until some years later that it hit me that this guy, playing a "Moor", is supposed to be "black".
posted by Etrigan at 9:29 AM on February 24, 2016


Anyone discussing Shakespeare who is not familiar with Othello is a joke.

I think the more important point is that there's not just like 4 characters people of color are allowed to play in Shakespeare. They could actually play any of the characters.

We've been letting women play the women parts for years now, after all, with no (well, I'm sure some producer somewhere has actually said it out loud, but fuck that guy) agony over not honoring the casting of the original productions.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:36 AM on February 24, 2016 [13 favorites]


This was about as bad as I expected. And Hollywood was traditionally been one of the few ways for Americans of color to become rich and famous, along with music and professional sports - all those people encountering all that prejudice - decades of sadness...

> Anyone discussing Shakespeare who is not familiar with Othello is a joke.

The idea that Othello has to be black is almost as bad as assuming any other Shakespeare character has to be white.

The first time I saw Shakespeare with non-white characters, I was taken aback. And then I realized that if you did racially, historically accurate casting then nearly all the good roles in any play written before about 1950 would be forever restricted to white males. You get over it!

After various different attempts at this, the theatre company I often work with decided to cast the best people for the roles, regardless of gender, race, age, whathaveyou.

This has been awesome. They did Oedipus with a female Oedipus and otherwise all-male cast because a woman did "belligerent and aggressive guy trying to do the right thing" better than any of the men. Jocasta was a big Eastern European straight guy with a soaring tenor voice. It was haunting.

In Lysistrata the cast were randomly male and female and would appear with increasingly large genitalia more or less assigned at random, and had well over a 40 year age range of actors.

So you can do better if you try!
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:39 AM on February 24, 2016 [13 favorites]


The idea that Othello has to be black is almost as bad as assuming any other Shakespeare character has to be white.

no one is assuming othello has to be black - the casting agent said “I couldn’t put you in a Shakespeare movie, because they didn’t have black people then.” which is pretty well proven wrong by shakespeare's own work (and a knowledge of humankind's movement, but that seems above his paygrade).
posted by nadawi at 9:43 AM on February 24, 2016 [20 favorites]


The idea that Othello has to be black is almost as bad as assuming any other Shakespeare character has to be white.

As much as I appreciate the fact that people are quick to defend race-blind casting, I think you will be delighted to discover that I never said black people must play the roles Shakespeare conceived of as black, nor that black people could not play other roles in Shakespeare.
posted by maxsparber at 9:45 AM on February 24, 2016 [7 favorites]


Urg, sorry, you're right - my apologies for the misreading! Sorry, the whole thing left me a bit sour and grumpy. :-(
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:51 AM on February 24, 2016


Paul Robeson played a Black man (he was himself Black) in 2 O'Neill's plays well before 1950

"Broadway policy in 1925 was to have white actors play "colored" roles in black face to avoid mixed casts and controversy like the one caused by the interracial casting of Eugene O'Neill's All God's Chillun Got Wings in the year previous, 1924, when the press had demanded that the Off-Broadway production be banned because Paul Robeson kissed the hand of a white actress. Nedda Harrington quit a play with a Negro in the cast, "but Broadway was in transition" (96)."

But then doesn't Hollywood reflect the society it makes films for?Think of the Hollywood Ten; think of keeping an actor's homosexuality private; think of the early Indians-bad-cowboys good, then changed to Indians ok.
Asians and Hispanics played minor roles for a long time.

Much of this is now changing as our society changes. And to expect Hollywood to be a leader in a world that is slow to change is perhaps a bit naive.
posted by Postroad at 9:53 AM on February 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


I hate to air dirty laundry on a topic that's really important to me but one of the people featured in that article made their big Hollywood break by stealing an idea from a dear friend of mine. It's really painful to read their comments and how he paints himself as some kind of working class hero. If you rip off ideas from people in your same out-group, then you're kind of a hack and a shitty human being.
posted by cazoo at 10:14 AM on February 24, 2016 [13 favorites]


Speaking of black people in Shakespeare, I remember when Denzel Washington was in Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing, and I thought, "This is the beginning of something big! Casting people of color in roles that aren't specifically meant for, or about, being people of color!" I was sadly wrong, but I still hope for this. Like, that someone would write a screenplay, or decide to direct a movie, and think, "Wait, is there a good reason the main character has to be male? Is there a good reason they need to be white?"
posted by not that girl at 10:16 AM on February 24, 2016 [3 favorites]


I was sadly wrong, but I still hope for this.

Me too. Hamilton gives me hope that people - the ones who aren't already asking that question, the ones with all the money - are going to start asking that question, simply because there's clearly piles of money being left on the table by not asking it.

The best reasoning I've seen for why studios and execs worship the White Male 15-22 demographic, even though they don't have any money, is that the men in power want to be White Males 15-22 forever. And there's been an argument in the past 15-20 years that a film made for that demo is most likely to do well in international markets with very little marketing or internationalization effort, as long as you take either the boobs or the blood out, but it apparently hasn't occurred to them that those faces and dollars queuing up for seats and DVDs in all those markets...mostly aren't white. What would happen if they saw characters that actually looked like themselves?
posted by Lyn Never at 10:34 AM on February 24, 2016 [12 favorites]


I'm reminded of Margaret Cho's stand-up where she talks about how the producers on "All-American Girl" told her she needed to lose weight in order to play herself.

And it almost killed her. Her kidneys shut down and she was peeing blood, and she still kept dieting after she got out of the hospital. Her stories about that series are harrowing; the racism and sexism is overpowering.
posted by Deoridhe at 10:41 AM on February 24, 2016 [4 favorites]


cazoo, it was John Ridley, wasn't it? I love his work, but he is just a horrible human being.
posted by Etrigan at 10:45 AM on February 24, 2016


With love scenes, the camera angle is from the man’s point of view. All of that absolutely infuriates me.

Wow, I never even noticed this. Ah, to be unaware of the water in which we swim.
posted by blurker at 10:46 AM on February 24, 2016 [5 favorites]


If you're interested in more writing on love scenes and gaze, there's some really great writing out there on both Outlander and Magic Mike (particularly MM XXL) and the female gaze. Once you see it, you can't unsee it.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:50 AM on February 24, 2016 [4 favorites]


When white, straight, males control every story that almost every other human in the world sees, hears or reads, then we all start to think that the only people who have value are white, straight, men/boys. Stories, whether told via film, tv, song, dance, whatever -- they have extraordinary power. White men know this. That's why they want to keep their hands on the reigns. That is why they are the gatekeepers. Cause once people who are not white, not straight and not male see themselves positively portrayed in mainstream media it is very hard to unsee it. It turns your world upside down when you find a story that tells you that you too are worthwhile. You have value. You have power. You have agency. It is permission to aspire.
posted by pjsky at 10:57 AM on February 24, 2016 [3 favorites]


If you're interested in more writing on love scenes and gaze, there's some really great writing out there on both Outlander and Magic Mike (particularly MM XXL) and the female gaze.

As someone previously unaware of any "Outlander" other than the Sean Connery sci-fi movie, I read that and was like "huh?"
posted by The World Famous at 10:58 AM on February 24, 2016


If you rip off ideas from people in your same out-group, then you're kind of a hack and a shitty human being.
But that's what the leaders in the "in-group" are doing all the time... it's Hollywood.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:00 PM on February 24, 2016


Oh, God. I remember back in the first comedy group I belonged to. I wrote a piece with a doctor and suggested we cast our black actor. The director said, "We don't want to go where that leads to."
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 12:32 PM on February 24, 2016


I totally support the idea of disregarding "historical accuracy" but to actually be historically accurate there were tons of black people in Britain. All through history. Including Shakespeare's time. Around that time period, Queen Elizabeth tried to deport all the black people - and failed.

Outside of England itself, and within the world of Shakespeare's plays, there were black people in Rome at the time of Julius Caesar, because the Roman empire included parts of Africa. These people were Roman citizens. (Some of those black people ended up in Britain as part of the Roman occupation.) In Italy, in the time of Romeo and Juliet, there was a diversity of skin colors, for more or less the same reason. And that actually exhausts my knowledge of Shakespeare. But, there you go.

There is no good literary reason for excluding Black people from Shakespeare. It's plain old racism.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 5:52 PM on February 24, 2016 [5 favorites]


> When white, straight, males control every story that almost every other human in the world sees, hears or reads, then we all start to think that the only people who have value are white, straight, men/boys.

It goes even farther: we all assume that the Default Human story is told by and about and from the point of view white, straight dudes. Every other story is marked: it is women's stories, or Latino stories, or Gay stories - they are not the stories of Every Person, but of a particular people, and therefore cannot possibly have the power and reach of stories about Default Humans. They cannot be universal, because "we" have collectively defined them as about others, not "us."
posted by rtha at 6:32 PM on February 24, 2016 [3 favorites]


pjsky: "When white, straight, males control every story that almost every other human in the world sees, hears or reads"

While I agree with your general point, you should maybe say "the Western world" not "the world", because you're kinda erasing the majority of the world there.
posted by Bugbread at 2:02 AM on February 25, 2016


Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Actress Chloe Bennet Talks Importance of Diversity at C2E2
“The casting directors would tell me, ‘Look, you’re not white enough to be a lead character, but you’re not Asian enough to have a best-friend role. At that time I was thinking, ‘You’re right.’ But in hindsight, it’s crazy to see how racist that was.”
posted by homunculus at 4:26 PM on March 20, 2016




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