Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Hey white folks! I love you, but Hollywood thinks you are hardcore racists...

I'm not kidding. Hollywood executives have a awe-inspiringly negative image of white America. They are already wrapping up the white sheet, cross and matches that they are going to send you for your birthday.

Really, the executives sit in their towers and proclaim, "Nope, too many colored people in this plot, those bigots won't go see it!" To illustrate, here's an excerpt from an article about Ben Mezrich which refers to the casting process for "Bringing Down the House":

This view is brought about in part by Hollywood, with films like “Ocean’s Eleven,” in which gambling is made to seem exotic and sexy. Incidentally, Mezrich’s “Bringing Down the House” is now being turned into a feature film by Kevin Spacey, who will play the MIT professor who trained the blackjack team described in that book. During the talk, Mezrich mentioned the stereotypical Hollywood casting process — though most of the actual blackjack team was composed of Asian males, a studio executive involved in the casting process said that most of the film’s actors would be white, with perhaps an Asian female. Even as Asian actors are entering more mainstream films, such as “Better Luck Tomorrow” and the upcoming “Memoirs of a Geisha,” these stereotypes still exist, Mezrich said.

This is nothing new. When Justin Lin was marketing "Better Luck Tomorrow", pretty much the only film marketed to a wide audience with Asian American actors, he was told buy potential buyers to "write in a white lead" in order to sell the film. In the end, the only way he was able to make the film was by maxing out ten credit cards. Needless to say, if that's the criteria for making a film with underrepresented leads, it's not going to happen very often. "Memoirs" is a film set in Japan with Chinese actors putting on pidgeon "Asian" English accents.

Hollywood is willing to shut down or completely alter projects in ridiculous, irrational ways that hinder the quality of the film because they think you are just that racist.

Think I'm exaggerating? Check out this excerpt from a review of "Bringing Down the House":

Mezrich describes how the team used the casinos' own prejudices to their advantage. For example, Lewis and most of the other team members had Asian ancestry. When a team member was asked about his family, he usually said that he was the son of a rich Asian industrialist or doctor. The casinos, they knew, wouldn't look as closely at a young Asian male betting large sums of money as they would at a non-Asian.

So not only were the real people in this scenario of Asian descent, but it is a concrete factor in their success. Basically, it is a key element of the story.

Hollywood thinks you are so racist that they are willing to rewrite history and what actually happen and make a worse story, just to make sure that the main characters are racially pleasing to the white audience.

I'd be pissed if I were you. Hell, I'm pissed for you. But even though I don't want to believe it, I don't think you are really that racist, I'll base my opinion on whether you continue to hand large gobs of money to these pricks who are trying to capitalize on what they see as your extreme racism. Please don't prove them right. Support films with minority leads and avoid films marketed based on these assumptions about your ingrained racist tendencies. Go buy “Better Luck Tomorrow”, “Charlotte Sometimes” or “Robot Stories” on DVD. Avoid “Memoirs of a Geisha”.

I speak from an Asian American perspective, but this extends to other underrepresented groups. Support films that have positive female, LGBT, African, Latina/o and Native American depictions and that provide opportunities for talented actors from these backgrounds.

I'd love to make for this to evolve from me preaching a personal agenda into a broader movement to improve things. In fact, I count on that--it is the only way to actually change these dynamics and the best way to prove that folks actually care about eradicating racism.

Drop me an email with ideas or support: xianb8 over at


Anonymous toml said...

Excellent article.

Do you know of any contact info where we can write to the producers?

2:22 PM  
Blogger xian said...

Good idea. Further research reveals that the film is still in the early stages as it was delayed by the Sony/MGM reorganization.

Shawn Levy is directing.

I'm not sure how to get ahold of the studio. Maybe someone with more knowledge in the film industry would know.

Let's all research this and see what we can find. I'm tempted to set-up the Ebert signal and see if he has any wisdom--he's always been so helpful for Asian American cinema.

3:13 PM  
Blogger Trey Desolay said...

Wow ... I mean ... I've read the book. Race is a central theme. If the team is to be depicted as all-white or even mostly-white, it just will not be the same story.

Funny, but I was mulling a post today about so-called Liberal Hollywood. Where is the evidence for it? Is it in Barbara Streisand's blog? Because there isn't much evidence in Hollywood product.

4:12 PM  
Blogger xian said...

That's a great point, Trey. I would argue that it's the difference between identifying as non-right wing and actually showing empathy and passion on race, class, sexual orientation, gender issues.

A good chunk of Hollywood will take "liberal" positions on issues, but it's only a small handful of people who see their career as a vehicle for social change.

4:27 PM  
Blogger patrickp007 said...

Hi guys, I'm so pleased to see there are others who are concerned about this issue. I was at Mezrich's book signing last Wednesday, and was in fact the one who asked Ben the question about race and casting.

At the present moment, I am trying to encourage and organize a response by MIT. I've engaged the MIT Committee on Campus Race Relations (CCRR), and am soon going to the President and Chancellor of the University to get their take on it.

Any idea as to who at Sony/MGM would we contact? (For instance, if someone high-up at MIT got involved?)
(feel free to email me at ppurdon [at] gmail [dot] com)

6:01 PM  

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