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Fade In: Minority Report

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by Wendy Okoi-Obuli
May 22, 2013 2:31 PM
4 Comments
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Fade In

Over at Fade In Online is an interesting (albeit 4 year old, but still relevant and worth sharing) insider survey I stumbled upon, on hiring in Hollywood, supposedly the bastion of open-minded liberalism. The answers from various anonymous industry insiders give a clue as to whether the difficulty faced by minorities and women in getting jobs in Hollywood is fact or fiction, prejudice or paranoia. 


Here are a few excerpts from different people in the industry hierarchy: 

Producer
"...The fact that Hollywood touts itself as liberal is ridiculous because all they care about is the bottom line and making money. They don't care about making socially conscious movies. They don't care about hiring minorities or bringing work to communities unless there's a huge tax break and it fits their bottom line. That's all they care about. And if they can hire a black person or a woman for less money who is going to do just as good a job as a high-priced white director, they'll hire that black person or woman."
"... and then there are other scenarios where I’ve had many projects, in particular dramas, that either told black history or featured black actors. It’s virtually impossible to get them made unless they’re comedies. So sexism and racism exist, and Hollywood is hypocritical. I don’t know if it will ever change, sadly"

Manager

“A couple of years ago, I sold this movie. It was a horrible movie, but there was one black guy in the movie. And every time they’d cut to him, he said, ‘Take the camera off of me. I’m just the token black guy.’ It was funny. And it was funny because it’s like an inside joke off of a joke of a joke.”
"I will have an easier time getting an African-American director a job dealing with a subject that is relevant to black culture because [the buyers] want to hire somebody that is of the race covered by that subject. Is it harder to get them a job dealing with subject matter that isn’t black? The answer is generally yes."

Director

"... I was in a meeting, and a question came up about being black and about dealing with racism, and I said, ‘Well, that was always important to me.’ Then one of the execs in the meeting zoomed in, and this is a child of privilege, to try to presume to tell me what it was like to be black: ‘Well, some of my African-American friends…’ which I always find totally amusing, because we’re black. You’re white, we’re black, but they always try to preface it with ‘Some of my African-American friends…’ or ‘Maybe the African-American feels…’ Or the real cheap shot is to try to trivialize it with, ‘Well, I know what it’s like, because I was discriminated against because I had long hair,’ or because of this or that, which is totally different."
"... The agent answered the phone with such zest, she began talking prior to letting the agent know that there was somebody else on the phone, and proceeded to talk about a high-profile project at the studio, and then he went into mentioning the African-American project and said, ‘We’re not even worried about nigger films.’ Shortly thereafter, the African-American executive resigned. There’s so much racism going on that we’re just used to it. It’s hard to pick out a moment when you’re not discriminated against.”

Entertainment Lawyer

"Fox Searchlight had Diary of a Mad Black Woman and was in line to produce it before Lionsgate. Searchlight called Perry and told him they had a bunch of changes they wanted. They didn’t get it. Perry told them, ‘Hold on for a second. I’ll be right there…I’ll be right there to pick up all my shit and leave!’ He took all his shit to Lionsgate and said, ‘Here’s my cast. I’m putting in some of my own money. Here’s my script.’ And they were in. That film was predicted to have a $3 million, bottom-of-the-barrel, you-haven’t-got-a-prayer opening; that prediction turned into a $21.7 million opening weekend. On that day, Searchlight called begging Tyler and everyone around the project not to embarrass them and disclose that they’d actually had it and messed it up. They were so embarrassed. My point is: That scenario still exists for certain women, and the same thing with minorities"
"... The studios are still terrified to go beyond the standard comedies or the standard shoot-’em-up urban films, both of which are very, very niche films as opposed to a broader market film that might include women and African Americans that could appeal to a larger cross section of America. They’re just not looking for those kinds of stories. As a result, there are fewer places to make those films"

Executive

"... I love the way agents pitch black writers in their cover letters… They’re always ‘urban writers,’ even if they grew up in suburbia. It’s so insulting.”
"There isn’t that much black history. You can’t tell a black story from the 1200s or the 1500s in America. The biggest movie star in the world is black. The biggest growing demographic, in terms of showing power at the box office, is female audiences with Sex in the City and Twilight, and you’ve got a black, female president of production at Universal Pictures. There aren’t that many female directors. There aren’t that many black directors. There aren’t that many female executives or black executives. But I don’t feel like there’re twenty great black executives and they’re not getting their shot.”

Agent

"... I imagine if a black writer wrote an action piece, I don’t think they’d stop them. It’s just after everyone knows you, they think you have to write black films only."
“As for black writers, it’s all on the page. Whatever a person decides to write is the genre they write in. People are hired based on samples and work they’ve done. Maybe I see the world through rose-colored glasses, but I don’t think there’s one thing that you can point to and go, ‘This is why there’re more men writing this kind of movie and more women writing this kind of movie and more African Americans writing this kind of movie.’ There’s more than that"

Screenwriter

"...One of the things that Hollywood, along with society, has successfully done is blame the victim. You're the victim of racism, but they blame you if you say anything. You will never be able to get behind a computer again in your life"

But, apparently, it's not just white people ignoring black projects...

"... Most black actors run away from ethnic pieces. I’ve heard black actors say that they won’t do any biopics about black people. Well, if you don’t do them, who the hell is going to do them? And then you talk about our story not being told? Have they not watched The Queen? Have they not watched The Duchess? Have they not watched Gladiator? Have they not watched King Arthur? You name the story. Whites are telling their history over and over."

Okay, so maybe nothing here we didn't already know or suspect, but hearing it from the horses' mouths is rare. You can read more (and there's lots more) here.

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4 Comments

  • ALM | May 23, 2013 10:30 AMReply

    One piece of good news is that once you click the embedded link, you realize that the first line of the producer's statement has change. A female director has won an Academy Award. The only issue is that I have to wonder if Bigelow would have even won if it was not for her former marriage/association with James Cameron. I realize that they were only married for a short time, but Hollywood, like most workplaces in America, is HIGHLY political. I have little doubt that Bigelow does good work, but her association with Cameron didn't hurt her.

    The manager (on the embedded link) discusses being politically correct with interview choices. At the end of the day, similar to the American workplace, very few of the people of color who are interviewed are hired. They are only interviewed to meet a list of criteria. Who cares how many people of color are interviewed, if only a few of them are actually hired?

    The screenwriter's piece is really disturbing. Especially this part, "“Then I had to go through the whole shame of going to meetings where people were asking me, ‘So did you really write this? Can we see samples of other stuff you did?"

    It's bad enough to have to attempt to "sell" your work to someone who can not identify with your work, but then to have to prove that you wrote it? That's really sad.

    To the entertainment lawyer's point about Tyler Perry, hate or love Tyler, even with all of his financial success the film studios still will not let go of their traditional mind set. The studios still think that they know what the audience wants more than the audience does.

    The screenwriter makes a really interesting point. He or she states that some of the top African American directors refuse to properly pay their writers. That could be the topic of another article on S & A if it hasn't been a topic in the past.

  • ScriptTease | May 23, 2013 12:16 AMReply

    As a Black Female Aspiring Screenwriter, it's disheartening and somewhat discouraging. My first screenplay is an upbeat dramatic screenplay similar to "Love and Basketball" (not Love and Hip Hop) but the storyline is totally different. It sounds like I have a better chance at writing a comedy, or something that sets black folks back a few decades. I also have to disagree about telling black stories. I honestly and truly do not want to relive or be constantly reminded of the black struggles that still go on to this very day. I want to be entertained without being pissed off and returning to work where most of my co-workers are white, and still hold that grudge of being pissed because I watched "Rosewood" the night before.... yes, don't act like I'm the only person this has happened to. When it comes to Hollywood, is it really about the all mighty dollar, or is also about keeping black folks oppressed?

  • Aaron | May 23, 2013 7:20 AM

    I know where you're coming from. I'm also an aspiring screenwriter and chose at the very beginning to just go and remain independent because I just knew I would be dealing with Hollywood racist fuckery. I'm working and perfecting several screenplays then once done with all of them I will choose one to start crowd sourcing to make into a film. This article further solidifed it in me to just start my own company and do myself.

  • Sweeta | May 22, 2013 10:52 PMReply

    Thank you so much for this!!! (clicking link NOW!)

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