Let’s be honest. We didn’t need Chris Rock or Anthony Anderson to tell us that Hollywood doesn’t care about Black people. We knew when we saw the cast list for Exodus and when we realized that in 86 years only 29 Black people have won Oscars (only 8 of them have been Black women) that Black movies, just like Black businesses, Black schools, and pretty much Black anything, are looked at as lesser. In an industry where “White is Right” and “Green is King” anything that doesn’t appease to both of those sentiments is not even worth acknowledging to them. Why else do you think the #OscarsSoWhite? Being someone who already advocates for valuing Black spaces; I personally only have three words to say to mainstream Hollywood.
Last year in my classes I had my students read an article by Samuel L. Jackson called “In Character”. In the article Samuel L. took Hollywood to task for being a racist and sexist corporation that refuses to step out of their tried and true formulas. He discussed how difficult it was for his cohort (people like Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington and Laurence Fishburne) to get work outside of stereotypical roles; something that unfortunately still happens now to a certain extent (Nowadays it’s seen as a risk to put a Black actor or actress in a lead role because Hollywood believes their key demographic won’t want to see it). After I got past the initial shock of Samuel L. Jackson having written an article in a textbook, I realized that I could use this to emphasize to my students the importance of creating our own spaces.
I did have to kind of sneak it in though. At the end of the article Samuel L. brought up the idea that Black people need to produce our own films, own our own theaters and eventually have our own distribution chains; I used that idea to explain riches vs. wealth to reel my students in. So many of us just want to be rich; to have a lot of money so that we can buy a lot of stuff, never thinking about what’ll happen when it’s gone. Very few of us strive to be wealthy, or have a business, product, or franchise that constantly brings us money even after we can’t rap, dance, sing or play sports anymore. To own some type of business, I explained, is not only a good way to get wealth, but also a way to provide a valuable space for your community to thrive.
How many of you have heard about Black Wall Street? Not just the horrible destruction of it, but the 21 churches, 21 restaurants, 30 grocery stores, two movie theaters, hospital, bank, post office, libraries, schools, law offices, private airplanes, bus system and more that this thriving community had. Black Wall Street was an invaluable space where Black people were allowed to succeed and be wealthy without anyone else’s validation. What if we had something like Black Wall Street in the movie industry, a Black Hollywood? We can cry about how messed up it is that the Oscars don’t recognize us, that Hollywood doesn’t support us, or about the roles we get placed in; or we can actually do something about it. Creating our own should be our goal, not begging for someone else’s. Creating our own is what we’ve done historically; when we couldn’t get into white institutions we made Black schools and HBCUs. When the “good old boys” didn’t wanna let us in their clubs we made the D9. Why can’t we make our own Hollywood as well?
That is the main reason why I can’t be too mad at Tyler Perry. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as sick of Madea and the tired plots as everybody else, but you have to respect Tyler’s hustle and admit that he has the right idea. He made his own production studio, he owns all rights to his works, and only uses outside people to market them. Plus Tyler has taken advantage of one of the biggest reasons for creating our own spaces; celebrating our own. He has given roles to a number of Black actors and actresses who otherwise wouldn’t get work. Whether you agree with what he shows or not, if more people followed Tyler’s example and made their own companies we would have a lot more options for Black films. (Hmm…that sounds a lot like making the “good” instead of destroying the “bad”. That sounds familiar…) Imagine if we had a whole fleet of Black producers, directors, actors, actresses, etc. supporting one another and really working to make Black Hollywood happen. Do you realize how powerful that would be?
Truth be told though, it’s not just Black people with this issue; Hollywood doesn’t show diverse stories of ANY race that’s not white. When was the last time you saw a movie about Hispanic people that weren’t gangsters or illegal immigrants? Asian people who weren’t shop owners or kung fu masters? Middle Eastern people who weren’t terrorists? Imagine how many more films and shows all people of color could put out if we focused on promoting ourselves instead of begging these companies who obviously don’t care for us to do it. I wouldn’t mind seeing an Asian coming of age in college story or an East Indian family comedy; we could do it if we owned more wealth-providing companies. I know I personally plan on starting my own publishing company one day, and you can bet your bottom dollar that I’m gonna make it a space for the people who the “mainstream” publishing industry won’t support. Samuel L. Jackson has the right idea, and the Sony emails have proven how important that idea is. All I’m trying to say is that they don’t really care about us, so why do we still care about them?
Were you surprised by the blatant white-ness of this year’s Oscars? What do you think we should do about the lack of diversity in the film industry? Leave your questions, comments, and concerns below, and be sure to like, comment, share and subscribe!