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February 16, 2017 5:02 AM   Subscribe

As part of a campaign highlighting their commitment to asking tough questions, The Atlantic created a short starring Michael K. Williams (known predominantly for his roles in 'The Wire' and 'Boardwalk Empire'). It's an introspective, quiet examination of whether he's being typecast.
posted by secretdark (19 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Damn, that was good. Thank you.
posted by middleclasstool at 5:19 AM on February 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

So terrific. Makes you really really look forward to seeing him in - anything - else.
posted by From Bklyn at 5:37 AM on February 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm wrapping up season two on my second run watching all the way through The Wire. A couple of weeks ago, I re-watched his first appearance, and I remembered what I thought the first time I saw Williams in action: That guy is amazing. I wonder if they're ever going to let him play anything else.
posted by middleclasstool at 5:41 AM on February 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

The jaw-clenching he does at 2:20 is just great.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 5:57 AM on February 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

It's an awesome short all around, but I was really marveling at the technical side. We've come a long way from awkward split screens to show an actor in more than one place at once. So sharp.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 6:10 AM on February 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

That was really really really good but I would have liked to see more of the cat also
posted by Greg Nog at 6:24 AM on February 16, 2017 [5 favorites]

That was a poodle.
posted by Molesome at 6:28 AM on February 16, 2017 [10 favorites]

posted by photoslob at 6:30 AM on February 16, 2017

Also I love his apartment, or whosever apartment.

But mainly that was just stunning.
posted by allthinky at 6:48 AM on February 16, 2017

That was great, but at the same time I think we might go further by asking ourselves as audience members what it is we're asking for from Hollywood and the rest of the media. Are we really looking for actors to escape type-casting and for roles that aren't archetypes or otherwise simplified into some sort of "essence" of some belief we hold as a society about how things work? Or is that in fact the roles and shows and films we flock to while largely avoiding anything "complex" or "arty" or more real? Box office says it's the latter, as does pretty much all social media including this site, so while we praise Michael K. Williams for his dialogue here, maybe we could also think about having more of our own too.
posted by gusottertrout at 6:55 AM on February 16, 2017

Great piece. Makes me want to see Uzo Aduba, Samira Wiley, Danielle Brooks, and Adrienne C. Moore (all from Orange is The New Black) get some non-typecast roles. All of them are incredible as black inmates, but all seem like they could do anything.
posted by jetsetsc at 8:19 AM on February 16, 2017

gusottertrout, I don't think that audience's desire for mindless entertainment in any way absolves Hollywood of its guilt in making lazy casting choices, at least at the very long tail of supporting characters. If nothing else, "Rogue One" demonstrated that a film can be mindless box office fodder and still have diversity in every corner. And sure, "Rogue One" was unique in that it created its own rules to some extent and audiences could accept by fiat that the Star Wars galaxy is somewhat less race-stratified than our own.

But just as audiences have been brought along over the years to be taught and accept the basic mechanics of (the entirely fictional phenomenon of) backwards time travel (which mercifully seems not to exist in SW), they can be taught that Asian dudes with glasses can be buff sanitation workers or that black women can be NASA mathematicians. I mean why can't Lemony Snicket's benevolently wacky herpetologist be depicted by an actor of Indian ancestry instead of the default crazy-haired white guy? Turns out he can, to no ill effect at all.

So it just seems less and less reasonable for Hollywood to make the argument that typecasting is a financial necessity forced upon them by the audience. And while, absolutely we in the public can and should vote with our ticket purchases to support diverse media, it's not an either/or choice between picking responsibly stodgy art pieces or submitting to the status quo. Plus let's not even pretend that highbrow entertainment gets a pass -- plenty of arty films are incredibly lazy in reifying stereotypes about class and ethnicity. That was the breakthrough of Spike Lee's "She's Gotta Have It" so many years ago - it depicted a New York of vibrant, intelligent people far removed from Woody Allen's white, high-ceiling'd Upper West Side.
posted by xigxag at 8:33 AM on February 16, 2017 [4 favorites]

When he says "yeah" at the end it looks like he was about to tear up. It hit me in the gut.

also I really really need that cardigan
posted by AFABulous at 8:52 AM on February 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

Is it just me or did the cat look stuffed?
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:59 AM on February 16, 2017

gusottertrout, I don't think that audience's desire for mindless entertainment in any way absolves Hollywood of its guilt in making lazy casting choices, at least at the very long tail of supporting characters.

Sure, but in the same way, the existence of Hollywood, or any industry making its money off of morally troubling products doesn't give the purchasers a pass for buying what's being sold either when they too should know better.

There have been plenty of movies made that don't fit the mold of the standard Hollywood product and audiences don't go see them, they go to the blockbusters instead. If you want to blame Hollywood for making them, that's fine, as long as we don't act powerless to effect our own changes too.

It isn't just stereotyping in the most renowned sense of the idea that's the entire problem, it's also that people have accepted all sorts of problematic images and ideas as "normal" and the basis of good entertaining story telling. One of Hollywood's biggest problems is their unwavering belief in the value of physiognomy, where the way a person looks determines their role and worth. That is part of poison of archetypes and stereotyping, it helps prevent people from seeing things in more nuanced ways. So even in a movie that may have people of color in key roles, there can still be a narrowing of possibility due to the allure of reworked cliches and simplification of complexity.

To be sure, all art by its nature requires and relies on a process of essentialization to share an experience or meaning with its audience, but when that process leads to simply giving the audience what they want and reveling in those biases it starts being unhealthy. Like many things, some of that is fine in small doses, and occasionally something more meaningful can arise from rooting around in the dustbin of popular media history, so it isn't the case that one need shun all popular culture, just accept the responsibility of one's own part in the continued manufacture of that product and its market dominance rather than passing it off as purely a media production problem. Hollywood, like many industries is largely agnostic when it comes to many of these kinds of issues, and often blind to them until money is involved.

If people go to see movies that deal in stereotypes, they'll keep getting more, if people actually spent money to support more minority creators and performers, then Hollywood will make more films to feed that interest. That's a main part of their reason for being on the producers end. If, instead, people just continue to line up for whatever blockbuster comes out just because its a blockbuster, then more of those will be made and the only progress will come through protests from minorities over treatment, if that protest reaches a certain level of notoriety. At which point Hollywood, thus far, simply rewrites the same old movies and throws some PoC in the roles and calls it good. That doesn't really expand the view of the world or effect much more change than giving more actors a shot at white man roles, a good thing, but not nearly enough since many of the basic perceptual issues remain rooted in the same shallow and unnourishing soil.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:45 AM on February 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

This Bullseye podcast interview with Michael K. Williams is required listening if you're a fan of his. His segment starts at about 45 minutes in.
posted by Cheezitsofcool at 9:50 AM on February 16, 2017

That was really really really good but I would have liked to see more of the cat also

You come at the cat you best not miss.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 5:27 PM on February 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

if people actually spent money to support more minority creators and performers, then Hollywood will make more films to feed that interest.

I'm not sure I agree. One big part of the problem is that the decision-making levels of Hollywood operate on a set of received-wisdom 'facts' about the audience that haven't matched up to reality in a long time.

This is why studio execs still don't want to make action movies with female leads, despite the massive success of things like Hunger Games and Mad Max: Fury Road. This is why it's still so hard to get costume dramas made about people of color, unless they hew to a narrow set of categories. This is why Scarjo still doesn't have a fucking Black Widow movie, and why no number of flops will ever dissuade studios from making more superhero movies starring mediocre white men.

When a movie does well at the box office despite doing things that receved wisdom says should hurt it, it's regarded as a fluke and doesnt influence future decision-making. When a movie does abide by the received wisdom and tanks anyway, it's... regarded as a fluke and doesn't influence future decision-making.

It is changing, but a lot slower than it should be, and if anything it's audience demand that's way, way ahead if the industry.
posted by nonasuch at 6:27 PM on February 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

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