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What's Wrong With Being Black And Chasing Your Hollywood Dream? (Survey)

by Courtney
November 29, 2012 2:36 PM
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Hollywood Sign

As a writer, but also a big fan of this site, I take time to read through the comments from readers as much as I can, to get a sense of what general perceptions on whatever a post is about. And I'm always taken aback when I read comments that belittle, or look down on actors and/or filmmakers especially, who are chasing the proverbial "Hollywood Dream," as if there's something antithetical about being black AND wanting to work within the Hollywood studio system.

Is there?

I was reminded of the below video clip (posted previously on this site) of a very frank Sam Greenlee (The Spook Who Sat By The Door) dishing on the state of what we call "black cinema," being independent, being outsiders as black people in the industry, embracing our outsider status, what all that means, and adding that "if you want to be a rich ho, move to Hollywood..." and more...

Obviously, as we all know, it's quite a challenge for people of African descent in this industry; I don't think I need to elaborate on that. The proof is in the pudding. We talk about these issues every week on this blog, in some form or another. So if you're entering this business with the long-term goal being to work primarily within the Hollywood studio system, as opposed to as an indie (and all the differences between both worlds), you should already be familiar with the struggles that likely lie ahead for you, as a person of color in a system that essentially marginalizes people who look like you, both in front and behind the camera.

Is that a fair assumption to make?

Not that it's any easier as an indie; being an indie comes with its own share of challenges. But I think that I'd say that, generally, for those who've chosen to strictly traverse the indie path, freedom of expression or in creativity is probably what's the most attractive about being an indie. If you're a filmmaker, full creative control over your work, meaning you can be as fearless, and take as many creative and even fiscal risks as your heart desires, without big brother looking over your shoulder, or pulling your puppet strings.

I suppose we could say a similar thing about actors.

Obviously that's not a steadfast rule, because, depending on how you obtain financing for your indie movie, you still may have to succumb to the requests of your financiers, in the end. But I'm just running with that as a key difference between working within those two worlds. 

And being black adds another layer of limitations for you to work through, although far be it from me to suggest that we (black peope) are in any way helpless victims, who have no control over our own destinies. But there seems to be a general belief that to work within the studio system means to understand and embrace the fact that you're really NOT in control.

But again, if you're entering this business, all of this, you should already know and be prepared for. 

So I'm curious to know how many of you up-and-coming talents (filmmakers, actors especially) have set their sites on Hollywood, despite how any disadvantages being black might negatively influence your career? And if you are, is there any shame in your game, so to speak? Do you feel pressure from the outside to give up that dream and take a different path? Do you have a plan of attack? A pre-planned path to success? Or are you just riding the wave, and see where you land?

And if you've already decided that Hollywood isn't for you, and you've committed to being entirely indie, despite the immense challenges ahead of you, I'd ask the same exact set of questions.

Obviously, it doesn't have to be one or the other; you can exist in both worlds at the same time; several people already do, and have been successful not having to choose one path or the other.

Just a little survey to generate discussion on an otherwise slow news day.

Here's the video with Greenlee:

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  • Dominick R. | March 4, 2013 3:54 PMReply

    Ive been browsing blogs about the road to Hollywood alot lately and ran across this one being that it came up and was potential information for me. I am an aspiring filmmaker by the way and I start my filming program in June it ends in September of next year and Ill probably be heading to LA following that. I dont even feel Hollywood is racially based anymore or America for that matter. Yeah you have the few jackasses but with the most powerful man in the world being black and people that have really blew up who are of a darken complexion ( Tyler Perry, Spike Lee, John Singelton) I feel its fair game now and it is going to boil down to my idea being a hit ( rather it be films or movie). I look at it like this and I treat it like this. Hollywood is like that high school or college you wanted to get into. You know you want to go there and you know what it takes to get in there so are you going to put in the neccessary work to get in there? The only thing that always stays in the back of my mind is there are tons of people as we speak flocking to LA to do the same thing you are trying to do so you got to get it by any means. Its not a fear factor its a motivator. Im ready. Hopefully I will see some of you guys down there. Good luck on everybody's road.

  • CC | March 4, 2013 7:30 PM

    @ Dominick R., if I didn't respond to your ambivalence and your admitted young journey, it would be akin to me enabling your to become a poor hustler of sorts. So please don't take this wrong.

    When you said, "I don't even feel Hollywood is racially based anymore or America for that matter", I had to question your "background" and whether or not you started your life in this country. To that I say, "just live a little and then come back and holla."

    I am suggesting that your paradigm is leaning on the wrong wall. Don't be fooled, bamboozled and led astray. And by all means, don't lie to yourself.

    That said, in reference to Sam Greenlee's comment "if you want to be a rich ho, move to Hollywood...", I am reminded of the saying "be leery of the dog who brings you the bone." Sam may have made a ground breaking and inspirational film, but he's now--by his own admittance--a broke brotha who's barely surviving.

  • John Q. | December 2, 2012 1:42 AMReply

    As an actor who's still new to L.A. I came out here to act. Whether that's indie, studio, stage and everything in-between, I don't care, just give me my lines and show me where the camera is. I grew up watching the Oscars, seeing the stars get their prints at Grauman's Chinese Theater and their stars on the walk of fame. I want that. I want my star trampled on. I want my hand prints size tested by a japanese tourist who's a big fan of my future work. I want my outfit torn apart by the fashion police. Yes I want the fame. And once I get it all out of my system, I'll go back home to Michigan and do all the theater I want cause that's where the real magic happens.

    There's nothing wrong with going "Hollywood" in my humble opinion. This whole belief that I'm not keeping it real because I'm aiming to be a star falls on my deaf ears. People have got to understand Hollywood is an exclusive club and they don't let many people in. Chances are you (and me included) won't get in. It's O.K. don't hate because the doorman shooed you away. It's all business. The business of selling movies. The business of putting butts in seats at the theater, DVD's on your shelf and megabytes on your hard drive. If you can attract an audience, have a built in fan base from your viral videos and can possibly translate that into more money in the studio's pocket, you're in. It's all about how much money can you make them, not about how well you can act and sometimes your color. If you make them money, color doesn't mean a thing cause they will exploit you until you're no longer profitable. So as an actor, if you want to act and have juicy roles, there are thousands of theaters around this country and even across the pond that will happily take you if are any good and your chances of being rejected are very slim. Personally, if I had the choice of doing an indie vs a studio film, I will pick the studio film every time until I can get to the point where financially I can do fulfilling work without worrying about my bank account. And I think that might ring true for most actors too. I'm sorry but when the rent is due... I know my studio check is coming, but I'm still waiting on my indie back-end money.

    As far as any pressure from the outside goes, everyone that's important to me supports me, so everybody else really don't matter unless their paying my bills. And in regard to what plan I have to make it to the top??? Marketing. I've got the acting chops, but nobody out here knows that. The gate keepers (casting directors, producers and directors) need to know who I am and what I can do. So I have to approach this from a marketing stand point. My marketing tools are my headshots, demo reels, resume, postcards, appearances at CD workshops, networking mixers, business cards, website, the whole nine. Yes an agent helps, but unless they are top notch, or you are, they just submit you from their computer, they don't just get on the phone with directors like " hey Greg, I got the perfect guy from you, he's new, never done a major feature before, but he's a great actor and will be great for your film." Nope, they see the casting notice for a African American male, and then they submit me, Terry, Corey and Tre. Then he leans back in his chair and sips his Starbucks. So yeah, you gotta market yourself.

  • Dominick R. | March 4, 2013 4:05 PM

    Bro thats exactly the way I feel as a filmmaker. When I was interviewing for my film program, they said you cant go into Hollywood with money or fame on your mind, which I agree with to an extent but the fact is bills have to be paid and second you are in a multi Billion dollar industry where you can make Hundreds of millions possibly billions so why not play like that. I feel you bro.

  • Marissa | November 30, 2012 9:01 PMReply

    I'm an actress and do I want the Hollywood dream? YES. As Americans aren't WE entitled to the same pursuits of happiness as whites? I say we are and I agree with Lauren's comments that there's nothing wrong with that. Additionally, I see our aspirations as being no different than being black in any other field -- especially if you're a person who aspires to be the best in his or her profession. We are up against "The Man," no matter what field we're in. It's just that the difficulties and sacrifice (whether you're an actor, writer, director or producer) for us are illuminated and played out for the rest of the world to see in a way that it isn't for most other professions. The best example that comes to mind is when Harvard educated lawyer Lawrence Otis Graham infiltrated the Connecticut Country Club to expose racism and sexism and the workings of the Good Ol' Boy networks in the 1990s. Unless you're a New York, Boston or Chicago lawyer, trying to move up the ladder in that world, you're not aware of the problems and walls that those blacks are daily facing because, as a society, we don't consume legal information. It's not a product. Entertainment, sports, print and broadcast media, are all products that we daily consume, so to us -- and the average consumer -- it's a little more obvious the pitfalls, struggles and battles that blacks are fighting for to have their voices heard.
    We only get one life, so live the one you want to live and don't Give a damn what others say about you.

  • Monique A Williams | November 30, 2012 8:13 AMReply

    I just want my films to be made how I want and to touch many lives. The how to is up to the universe. #simple

  • Aaron Lee Scott | December 1, 2012 2:50 PM

    Now that's what I'm talking about. I want to make films that will be shown on the screen without interferences from others because it doesn't fit into any boxed genres.

  • Dawn | November 29, 2012 11:52 PMReply

    Indie has been my approach since day 1. It's defiant and empowering to create your own visions as a filmmaker and more attainable than the Hollywood exploitation game as an Actress. I would not be so wise as to throw myself into Hollywood which despises deep down and on the surface, my Black grandeur.

  • JDB | November 29, 2012 11:02 PMReply

    My friends and I have this same argument all the time - whether it's better to work within the system or outside it. I think it depends on the person.

    I for one, attempt to do both. I feel working within the system gives you some insight as to how Hollywood works, therefore when you embark on your own independent projects, you have a distinct advantage on how to get ahead. Duvernay is a great example of this. Even though she's independent, she didn't spring out from the middle of nowhere (pun intended). She ran her own PR firm for a number of years, helping promote studio films from the likes of Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg and others to black audiences. Going through that experience equipped her with a valuable network of resources to rely on when she launched AFFRM as well as the knowledge on how to ensure that her movies got attention.

    While Duvernay is a great example of someone who worked from the inside-out, Issa Rae is someone who worked from the outside-in. She developed a massive following with her web series, so when she did knock on Hollywood's doors, they had no choice but to answer. Now she's selling TV pilots alongside Shonda Rimes.

    I'm a screenwriter that still considers myself relatively new to Hollywood, even though I've had marginal success. An independent film I co-wrote titled The Citizen got produced with named talent and is now on the festival circuit. Thanks to taking this indy approach, I have some leverage when I do meet with Hollywood types which is way better than trying to bust down the door while not having proven myself yet. It's still a struggle. Even though we get great reviews, our indy film is literally a dime a dozen in Hollywood. So while I continue to work on getting execs to return my calls, I'm still open to indy projects and hope to one day build a mass following myself so it will be me whose having to return their calls.

  • Micah | November 30, 2012 2:34 AM

    JDB, I would just like to say "Amen". Thank you that is all. Please continue.

  • V.C. | November 29, 2012 8:16 PMReply

    The above clip says it all....Amen
    ..."Key Of Brown" the trailer...

  • Adam Scott Thompson | November 29, 2012 5:54 PMReply

    To an extent I have a "reign in hell" mentality when it comes to entertainment. My dream, if you will, is to help create a "Third Coast" between New Mexico, Texas (where I live) and Louisiana. We have great production incentives, low cost-of-living and thousands of professionals eager to work. But... I also want inside that machine. Anthony Mackie said you can lose your soul and your shirt working in L.A. For me, it's more about what Robert Rodriguez was able to do with his Troublemaker Studios in Austin; he makes his deals inside the machine, then takes it back to "hell" and produces locally, hires locally, buys locally -- supports the local economy. In such a way, I think you can be both master and slave (which we all are in some form). As for the burden of representation, I put that down long ago. When I create characters, in my head most of them are black; however, I keep them "race neutral" in terms of dress, speech and manner because I know that an optioned script will ultimately be packed full of Macadamia nuts rather than chocolate chips, so... But all of these discussions of "Why we gotta follow the white folks? Why we gotta aspire to the European ideal" -- just... stop. Three-act structure, characterization, pacing, rising and falling action, the Aristotelian unities -- these elements aren't peculiar to "ofay" cinema, or the arts in general. I don't see much difference between Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath" and Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart." Quick question: Was Alvin Ailey steppin' and fetchin' when he created his ballet company? I say to my fellow black filmmakers, decide what you ultimately want out of the whole affair -- fame, fortune, accolades, groupies, power and control, independence, artistic freedom/expression, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a pat on the back, etc. -- and do whatever's required. Simple. Let the naysayers say nay; be about your own business. And at peace with it.

  • turner | November 29, 2012 9:00 PM

    Amen brother!

  • lauren | November 29, 2012 5:11 PMReply

    If you have the good fortune to live in America and you're serious about being a filmmaker, going the Hollywood route is the same as moving to New York to be a stockbroker or to Iowa to grow corn. Nothing to be ashamed about; that's the epicenter of the business. We really need to stop finding fault with people who aspire to be successful within the industry. Who does that serve really?

  • Justin W | November 29, 2012 3:49 PMReply

    You can say that "I'm riding the wave and see where I land".

  • Douglas | November 29, 2012 3:45 PMReply

    Wow - so much to say about this. People that have talent and abilities should use and express them. However, it's kind of like players in the rap game - for all the shouting and signifying they will do whatever it takes to be a star. There are a few exceptions but if you just look at what comes out of Hollywood it's the same mess there are no Ossies and Rubys anymore.

  • Chester | December 1, 2012 8:35 AM

    Amen Douglas D.. Amen

  • monkeysuit | November 29, 2012 3:39 PMReply

    I just want to make movies. I don't really care how it's done as long as it's done. If the Hollywood vision and my vision happen to be line, then I don't see any shame in that. Hollywood doesn't always ruin movies. But I don't think Hollywood is interested in works centered around the black experience. So if you're talking about the morality of making movies contrary to your vision just to get in good with studios, that's tricky. Everybody has a hustle. We all have to do some dirt in hopes of opening doors for our true vision in the future. If you're lucky enough to do this through the Hollywood system, then more power to you. But if just sustaining in Hollywood is your end goal, then you're probably not an artist. At least not a good one.

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