View Full Version : Discrimination in the Entertainment Industry
01-28-2007, 02:02 AM
I read the editorial comments in the Jan. 18-24, 2007, BACK STAGE about racism and discrimination in the entertainment industry and I want to voice my opinions.
I am an African-American guy. My age range is 18-26. I’m slim, lean, 5’6” and 130 lbs. There are no roles out there for me. No one is really creating roles and stories of substance for African-Americans. Why do a lot of the roles for African-American guys have to be them playing: thugs and drug dealers? I am very disappointed and discouraged that most of the soaps are basically just full of White people. What ever happened to diversity and integration? Even Broadway is mostly just full of all White people. Is this the dream of (the late) Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Junior? There are serious race issues here in 2007 that we need to talk about and do something about.
In the Jan. 25-31, 2007, edition of BACK STAGE an actress who remained anonymous stated, "...we're seeing the return of racial stereotypes in casting. There is a slow erosion of the progress that had been made, and we don't know why. Once again black characters can't speak English and the women are overweight. Many of us are educated and are not overweight. As a very light-skinned African American, I have a particular problem precisely because I don't fall into any stereotypes. I seem to be having a more difficult time getting cast now than ever before...It's not the casting directors who are at fault, but the producers making the decisions..."
The lack of diversity issue needs to be talked about and dealt with on shows like THE VIEW, THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW, and on news programs like 20/20, DATELINE, AND 60 MINUTES. Most White people don’t want to or like to talk about this race issue because they are not being discriminated against because of it but White people need to see this issue and deal with it.
There is a show on TV called GREY’S ANATOMY. This show is probably the most racially diverse show on TV. This show is part of the dream of (the late) Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Every show on TV should be as ethnically diverse as GREY’S ANATOMY is. More films needs to be as diverse as GREY’S ANATOMY is. More Broadway shows need to be as diverse as GREY’S ANATOMY is. The executive producer of GREY’S ANATOMY is an African-American woman. There needs to be more people of color working in the industry that are: executive producers, producers, directors, writers, network executive and casting directors. Good, quality, integrated, diverse shows can be successful, hit shows like GREY’S ANATOMY.
01-28-2007, 12:17 PM
... is that it can ease backwards when the spotlight is shining somewhere else.
As my wife and I were eating lunch the other day at the local cafe in the small town where we live, we heard the following exchange (which was very loud):
Middle aged man in suit (talking about the prospect of either Hilary Clinton or Obama becoming president): "We don't need a f#%^&g woman or ni#$er in the White House."
The other 5 people at the table really jumped his shit and we heard him called bigot several times. We smiled at the quick response, until one of those correcting him said, "Well, I guess it's okay. Right now it's just queers you can't anything bad about."
MLK's work was left unfinished, as was the work of feminists. This is evident in the racial and gender inequality that still exists. The retort, "Yes, but its better than it was before" is hollow and meaningless.
Unfortunately activists and advocates, as well as the victims of bias and hatred, tend be mono-issue. As new issues arise or come onto the radar screen, picking up the banner for those issues unfortunately means that many will put down their banners for the others.
It is essential that the issue be maintained as opposition to bias and discrimination in ALL its forms, not just the issue du jour. Alliances and networks need to be nurtured among all advocacy groups and issues, in order to prevent one from overshadowing others.
We are in this together and the aim is not to elevate the status of African-Americans or immigrants or GLBTQ or women or [insert other group experiencing bias], but to replace those "ors" with "ands" and fight all discrimination against all people. We need to seek, together, to fight all evil in any of its manifestations.
01-28-2007, 12:33 PM
Great response Andy, that's precisely what's needed.
Snuka, your observations are correct. It IS a problem. My observation has been that a cute, skinny female can get pigeon-holed in the "sexy femme fatale" role (which is worthy of discussion in itself), but a man has few serious offers beyond the drug-dealer type model. I agree it is a problem in the performing arts and it just reflects that there is still a very serious racial problem in this country as a whole.
We saw Dreamgirls a few weeks back, and I thought the problem was exemplified by the scene in which (I forget the character's name now) the male singer who never quite makes it *big* gets the gig singing for an all-white audience, and the lady in the front row gets horrified and walks out. But the girls are kept on for their own show.
I don't know if anyone knows what we as individuals can constructively DO about these problems.
Dunno if you've ever explored it, but I like www.tolerance.org. It's a fascinating website, and they even link to "hidden bias" tests that deal with concepts of racial, gender, sexual orientation, and other perceptions. Take some of the tests. I was surprised by a couple of the results I got.
01-28-2007, 01:29 PM
Snuka, I think you're right about this. And it is sad. I grew up in rural West Virginia with NO BLACKS at all. We used the N word and said things like, "She's real pretty - for a black girl". I didn't meet any blacks until I went to college and have to say I've never had a good friend who is black. But I've become much more open to accepting people who they are. I absolutely HATE discrimination and will say something if I hear it.
The entertainment industry is very white-centric. We've come to just expect certain things. Think about someone with a very strong southern accent. Can you imagine Obi Wan Kenobi with a Jim Nabors accent? Nobody would take the role seriously. He could have a wonderful English accent or standard US accent, but not southern, or New England. The one black in the first three movies is also quite fair-skinned.
I think the heart of this is the image crisis of diversity. On one hand, we're told to not just accept someone who is different, but to celebrate their difference. We're all encouraged to be who we really are - whether it's black or gay. And there have been great performances by black actors, but they're still called black actors. Why? Because being black is still considered different from being white, like most people.
On the other hand, when black actors play up the black urban culture, it turns off a lot of people. We think, "do they really have to talk that way?". Unfortunately, it is often associated with drugs, pimps and violence. It's self-perpetuating. Of course most black people are not that way, but that's the perception.
Just like with being gay, my philosophy is that the more decent, normal upstanding gay people who come out, the more people will accept gays in general. You're an intelligent, talented, well-adjusted, honest black man. Be exactly who you are. You've already "come out", but unfortunately, you still need to keep proving yourself.
I recently watched the first season of "Noah's Arc" from Logo. I think it's maybe unrealistic in that ALL of the characters were black, most of them gay. (Typically, most of the actors are straight.) It did give me some insight into "their world" and it was not really much different than mine. It also gave me a better appreciation for the black male body. I've been noticing more black guys recently and paying closer attention. Some of the black aspects of the show are stereotyped, and some are gay stereotyped too, which is somewhat unfortunate.
I was in Brazil last summer and they are much more racially integrated than the US. There are almost no "blacks", but there has been interracial marriage for centuries. It was refreshing because I didn't perceive any racial tension. I hope the US can overcome the shadow of slavery, segregation, interracial marriage and move toward that type of acceptance.
01-28-2007, 02:37 PM
Andy- excellent point!
While I work with many African-American colleagues, the issue of racism in the performing arts took on a whole new context when I had the honor of meeting and becoming friends with Anna Wiggins Brown, who was the the first Bess in Gershwin's Porgy and Bess in 1935. We met through a mutual friend who interviewed her as part of a Gershwin retropsective- she studied with a teacher at Juilliiard who's own teacher was a student of Lilli Lehmann, a very famous German soprano who sang the Met at the end of the 19th century and wrote an interesting book: How to Sing which is still in print. Being a student of vocal pedagogy and vocal lineages, I was curious about her training and career.
Wow! What a lady! And what a life!
Anne related how she had a very hard time after her success on B'way. She wanted to pursue a career in film, but was only allowed to audition for maid's parts. And her audition at the Met Opera amounted to 'don't call us- we'll call you.' She had a radiant, beautiful soprano- there was no reason she should not have sung leading parts there! The times being what they were, she abandoned these shores and moved to Oslo, Norway, after receiving ecsatic reviews there and in Northern Europe, married, had children, and became a national treasure. She sang all over the world, touring Europe and Asia, but did not find ultimate success at 'home'. We are much the less for that.
Why do I mention all this? Beause reading about racism isn't the same as talking to someone who has experienced it first hand.
I will be ever grateful for her generosity and kind spirit.
01-29-2007, 06:31 PM
The mainstream media (ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, & CW) also chooses to portray gay characters in a stereotypical way. Why do gay men always have to be portrayed as feminine or flamboyant. In the actors’ breakdowns for projects, when producers/directors of shows want gay characters, they’re looking for those characters to “act gay.” What is acting gay? There are a lot of heterosexual men that appear to be a bit feminine. Most of the gay people that I know are masculine and do not fit into the “gay” stereotype. It angers me that gay characters have to always be flamboyant, feminine and foolish. It is time to see a serious gay male character.
As for lesbians, I do not really see any lesbian characters on TV. Rosie and Ellen do not count because they are really people or personalities. The only fiction TV character that I’ve seen that is a lesbian is a character on All My Children. I can not think of this character’s name but she is “Erica’s” daughter. This character is a serious lesbian character. Again, it’s time for a serious gay male character.
02-12-2007, 03:39 PM
you know, tv may suck, but when it comes to theatre, there are a lot of diverse roles, you just have to NOT look only to big productions and broadway budget shows- i mean, everything august wilson wrote is from the african-american perspective and is some of the best american theatre, in my opinion. a lot of plays are neutral- death of a salesman doesnt have to be a white man's play- it's the directors who choose to cast them that way. i think RENT is one of those plays that can be cast with racial casting set well aside- the only mention ever of a heritage for any of the characters (that i recall- human memory, mind you) is mimi being hispanic and it's possible that reference, "it feels to much like home when the spanish babies cry", could be a reference just to where someone lives, not a racial stereotype for casting.
unless the play says that the character is white and has specific cultural references that limits the role, then it's up to the director, not the material, to determine the races of the part.
when it comes to gay people positively represented on tv, i go for buffy the vampire slayer- the portrayal of willow and tara as a lesbian couple with all the same problems and positivity as any other couple (with the witch element added) is actually not too bad. true, there aren't many non-white characters in the show, and yes, kendra (the african slayer) does end up dead...but so does everyone else in the programme. the companion show, angel, does more with the racial issues with their portrayal of gunn and his friend-family with their war against vampires. there are quite a few times when the othering that occurs in the show for demons and vampires are metaphors for other social issues.
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