While the racially white dominated movie industry might not know it, the Oscars were preceded this past weekend by the NAACP Image Awards. While I don't endorse their taste (their chosen best picture was "Crash"), I do sympathize with their struggle to break down doors to an industry that has never been exactly welcoming. While this year's Oscar nominees may be politically left, they are still overwhelmingly Caucasian.
In a special Image Award issue of Variety published Friday, I wrote about some of the ways that the studios are telling stories about the African American experience that don't rely simply on guns and gangsters. Coincidentally, this past weekend bore this out further with the success of "Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Reunion," the follow up to his "Diary of a Mad Black Woman." "Madea" had the highest opening grosses for any movie this year. I haven't seen the film and I don't suppose I'd like it, but I can't complain when little films target so-called niche audiences, rake in big bucks, and show just how out of touch Hollywood has become.
"The disconnect between Hollywood and black people," one producer told me, "was made clear by a friend of mine who told me a story about going into a pitch to a studio executive. The executive liked it, but told him to come back after he discussed it with some other people. They have a second meeting and the executive says, 'So help me out with the story: Why is it that the slaves want to be free again?' Even if it's exaggerated, it reflects how disconnected the studios are. I really believe that."
"Unfortunately, you still have a lot of bias in America," another industry insider acknowledged, "where it's very difficult to get people to watch movies with characters that don't look like them."