White Audiences/Black Films And Other Tiresome Tales Of Ignorance & Myopia...

by Tambay A. Obenson
July 19, 2011 7:08 AM
23 Comments
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"Movie producers are often reluctant to cast more than a few minority actors in otherwise race-neutral movies for fear that the White audience will largely avoid such films. Two experiments were conducted to test the idea that the racial makeup of a cast could influence White audiences' selective exposure to movies. Results revealed that actors' race does influence selective exposure in certain contexts... regardless of racial attitudes, White participants showed significantly less interest in seeing movies with mostly Black casts than in seeing movies with mostly White casts."

From a report by Andrew J. Weaver titled The Role of Actors' Race in White Audiences' Selective Exposure to Movies. This spread across the web rapidly, a few weeks ago. Several folks alerted me to it, but I mostly avoided the noise. It's not exactly news, is it? We've been talking about these matters in one form or another for awhile now; and, besides, the proof is in the proverbial pudding, is it not?

But an article I read earlier today regarding The Help, that referenced Weaver's report, got me thinking about the other related questions that I rarely see asked.

Specifically, for all of you black folks out there reading this, if white audiences avoid "black films" because they don't believe the stories are relatable to their experiences, since, as we all apparently know so well, nothing universal exists in stories about black people, how many of you are willing to avoid "white films" or films that tell stories primarily about white people (the majority of films made by Hollywood), for similar reasons, however ridiculous they might be?

Imagine if black audiences, en masse, stopped seeing "white films," taking away the billions of dollars we spend every year on movie tickets, DVD sales and rentals combined.

Show of hands... who's with me on this? Let's spend our dollars on "black films" ONLY, or at least primarily, because there's nothing relatable to our experiences in "white films," and thus they aren't made for "us."

*Sigh*

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23 Comments

  • eshowoman, the cranky film scholar | July 24, 2011 1:42 AMReply

    I avoid a large portion of films with predominantly white casts because they bore me. Whites see themselves as universal, as the examples of humanity at it's finest, the epitome of all that is good with the strength to overcome any evil. White audiences are narcissistic and deeply ingrained with the idea that white is right. It is very hard for them to see people of color as complex human beings. Many black films bore the hell out of me too, that is why I watch so many independent films and I am so grateful for Shadow and Act for highlighting the actual diversity of black film, Sadly since most distributors and film industry personnel are white cinematic narcissists and many great films from around the world never get to black audiences. Until there are enough black cinephiles with the cash to build a robust and diverse film industry we are stuck with the over-proliferation of Hollywood's "ain't it wonderful to be white" films.

  • CareyCarey | July 21, 2011 5:56 AMReply

    That's cute Misha.

    But in the end, I think I am done here. I think it's time for a vacation of sorts. I believe I've lost that loving feeling. Until next time, I'm leaving on an airplane, don't know when I'll be back again because the thrill is gone.

    Bye now.

  • misha | July 21, 2011 3:15 AMReply

    @CareyCarey, "justifications and rationalizations?" Hahaha. Really? In other words, stop muddling the discussion with history and facts? Gotcha! :)

  • Terence | July 21, 2011 2:11 AMReply

    When engaging in elements of culture, I tend to choose entertainment, food, parties, music, etc that is a part of Black culture. This is because I'm Black and the stuff that happens in Black Culture is more fun for me, more engaging to me etc.

    When I see a movie with a lot of white people in it I'm not automatically interested in what it's about. The reason I see movies with white people in them is because that is what is available. Often when I do go see a movie with white people and it is good or entertaining I lament on how much better it would have been if there were Black people in it and it spoke to me from a cultural perspective and reflected my experience.

    On some level I feel alienated from movies or music from outside of my culture. That isn't a bad thing, I think it's the same feeling a soccer mom from Iowa gets when she hears Wu Tang. When I watch mainstream movies made by white people I don't understand the lyrics, they rappin to fast.

    That said you can't fault white people for not wanting to engage in culture's outside of theirs. Who wants to bridge the culture gap? Especially to a Culture that you don't find particularly interesting. We need to respect each other not go to each other's parties. (They just drink and talk, i'm tryna dance).

    I think weather or not people admit it, Most people Black, White, and Other are like this, They feel most at home in their own barrio. As Black filmmakers we need to learn how to speak to each other and increase the volume and quality of films that come out of Black Culture.

  • Orville | July 20, 2011 10:50 AMReply

    I think the feminist bell hooks wrote an essay a few years ago about whiteness in the black imagination. In the essay hooks argues that whiteness is viewed as mainstream and black people are at the margins. We are so conditioned as black people to accept white images, movies and television we do not even notice it. However, since white people are still the majority in North America they have the power to decide NOT to support black films. I think it is kind of sad though that some whites will NOT watch a movie with a majority black cast because they think they cannot relate to it. I think the issue is much bigger and it relates to race relations issues in the United States.

  • BluTopaz | July 20, 2011 8:52 AMReply

    yeah me too, been doing this. And not because they are White films, simply because most Hollywood flicks suck. I can quote lines from really good Serbian/Australian/etc indie films because I watched them over and over, but can't name most A list actors from mainstream movies because I don't care about freakin Harry Potter or whatever.

  • misha | July 20, 2011 6:59 AMReply

    "Bring me a black film that one believes has great indepth dialog/writing, and I’ll bring you 100 white films to trump it."

    Well of course you can! For every "Jumping the Broom," there's twice as many "Bridesmaids" and "Something Borrowed." (Now I am not saying those are quality films...just using a recent example off the top of my head). The playing field isn't anywhere close to being equal and thus any comparison is destined to fall short.

    And it's not that white filmmakers write better stories (I don't even want to get into how troubling that sounds). But rather, they have enough projects greenlit that the good overshadows all of the crap. And don't be fooled, there are a lot of crappy "white movies" out there. Obviously, when there are only one or two (non-Tyler Perry) "black films" produced a year, they are going to be put under the microscope and unfairly compared to "white movies" that are similar.

    Simply put, comparing white filmmakers to black filmmakers and "white stories" to "black stories" is an exercise in futility but a dangerous one indeed, as it ignores TONS of factors that have nothing to do with the writers/filmmakers themselves.

  • misha | July 20, 2011 6:33 AMReply

    Actually, I already avoid most "white films," particularly the likes of Bridesmaids, The Notebook, Transformers, The Hangover, etc. Just not interest in mediocrity masquerading as brilliance and certainly ain't spending my hard-earned dollars to see it.

    @dcmoviegirl, I really don't think the problem is marketing. I mean, what's so different about the marketing for "black films" (save the money/budget discrepancy)? It's not like you have promos/trailers warning viewers that said films are only for black folk. In fact, when most black actors are promoting movies these days, you'll hear the seemingly obligatory phrase, "it's not just a black movie." Now, I never got what was so bad about it just being a black movie but that's not how I see it being marketed.

    I think this is merely good, old-fashion white privilege at work. Yes, folks. We all know that whites don't have to be bothered with anyone else's (non-white) culture. They have the luxury of choice and there isn't anything one can say or do to change that. Hence, why the "it's not just a black movie" mantra is futile.

  • Gary C. | July 20, 2011 6:30 AMReply

    Any truly good black movies are independent ones. Films that are untouched by white/jew movie execs who have no social incentive to show us in a positive light. With limited advertising budgets, how are these movies supposed to get to the black masses? I'm not supporting a black flick just because it's a black flick and when a filmmaker panders to a black audience we'll get the same tired ingredients: relationship dramas, toilet bowl humor comedies and dance competition flicks.

  • CareyCarey | July 20, 2011 6:07 AMReply

    ***looking around the room to see if that one guy (Son of Baldwin) is in the house**


    That guy called me a white guy because I said what many will not. First, no surprises here, white folks ain't never loved us, and if at all possible, they'd put us in "townships" like district 9.

    But here's the big elephant in the room, plan and simple they write better stories than our current black writers. And, they have a huge selection of directors to draw from. Yeah, I said it. When I listen to (look at) many "white" films, I see much more depth and complex writing than many of our "popular movies. And again, I have to be honest, many of our actors just do not bring it. Sure, we have a handful that's doing the damn thang, but in the white world, they undoubtedly have a bigger basket to choose from.

    Bring me a black film that one believes has great indepth dialog/writing, and I'll bring you 100 white films to trump it.

    Oh, and don't hate the player, hate the game. And while you're at it, bring me a well written, interesting, gripping and suspenseful "black " story, and then we'll have something to talk about.

  • CareyCarey | July 20, 2011 4:13 AMReply

    “I’m not supporting a black flick just because it’s a black flick and when a filmmaker panders to a black audience we’ll get the same tired ingredients: relationship dramas, toilet bowl humor comedies and dance competition flicks”

    Utt oh! It appears as if Gary C is not only saying it right, he’s saying what’s right. PANDERING... let me count the ways and do we really want to go there? I mean, there's a lot of pimps and panderers in this business, and many of them are in positions of power and influence. And many of us are welcoming them with a smile on our face and BS excuses on our lips, and inviting them to Sunday dinner. I not going there right now.

    But wait, let me address Misha’s comments. She already nicely wrapped dcmoviegirl’s comment and put her in the trunk, so let me kill 2 birds with one stone.

    Ms Misha said: “And it’s not that white filmmakers write better stories (I don’t even want to get into how troubling that sounds)”

    Well dear, that’s the crux of the matter (my argument), so naturally I beg to differ. Granted, if you’re resting your argument on the ambiguous words “better” and “good”, we can stop right there and I can simply defer the rest of my opinion to Gary C’s comment. Yeah, you know it, as of recently, we’ve been left with pandering stories of the same tired ingredients: relationship dramas, toilet bowl humor comedies and dance competition flicks. So Misha, it’s all about who writes the best stories. And I’ll define my “best” later in this comment.

    “And to illustrate how you misguidedly littered the playing field, while moving away from the central point, you said the following.... “Simply put, comparing white filmmakers to black filmmakers and “white stories” to “black stories” is an exercise in futility but a dangerous one indeed, as it ignores TONS of factors that have nothing to do with the writers/filmmakers themselves”

    Really? TONS of factors that have nothing to do with the writer/filmmakers themselves? Well my dear, I don’t know anything about your “TONS of factors”, however, the pendulum will always lean heavily toward the final product. Your words are nothing more than justifications and rationalizations to excuse faulty products. Bring me the damn final product and bump all the “ton of factors”, whatever in the hell they may be. As it stands, I am standing on my position that the preponderance of truth and evidence, weighs heavily on the side of the in-depth, complex, multifaceted, and diverse writing/stories of present day white writers/stories. Granted, someone could argue the point that we have great writers and there are great stories to tell, but the proof is in the pudding. To that I say, bring me their heads. If not, miss me with the “tons” of factors.

  • dcmoviegirl | July 20, 2011 3:46 AMReply

    Haha. That shit ain't happening.

    The real meat of the problem is marketing. You don't sell it as a "black movie" and then act new when white people don't want to see it.

    Independence Day, The Karate Kid, and Fast Five ALL did well with non-white leads.

    That proves to me that it's not the color of what it's in it. It's how you label it.

    http://dcmoviegirl.blogspot.com

  • Adam Scott Thompson | July 20, 2011 3:41 AMReply

    Not... missing... "The Dark Knight Rises."

  • Anonymous | July 20, 2011 2:40 AMReply

    ...you mean you want me to avoid seeing movies by Christopher Nolan and David Fincher? #comeon!

  • K | July 20, 2011 1:57 AMReply

    Ugh, most black folks are not trying to see majority of black films either. Isn't this the same site dogging "The Help.?" White people avoided "Something Borrowed." Black folks ran to "Jumping the Broom." Both mediocre, subpar films that should have never been greenlighted. Make something great i.e. Insidious, and people will come.

    But it is human nature to flock to films that star us and by us. Why should white folks be any different? I doubt black folks are supporting Tyler Perry and T.D. Jakes because they produce quality work. No, they are black and hire black actors, therefore, we see their films.

  • T'Challa | July 19, 2011 12:40 PMReply

    I agree a good story is a good story. BUT.. I want to see my people represented on screen, and done properly. So, unless it's an exceptional story, I don't have much interest in majority White cast films either. Like attracts like..

  • Joe | July 19, 2011 11:27 AMReply

    I recall reading an article why white audiences flock to Will Smith & Denzel Washington. They make them feel comfortable because most of their roles are not race conscious. Lionsgate can target, as their brass said, a movie for a niche white audience in the form of Precious.

    http://www.counterpunch.org/reed12042009.html

  • Mecca | July 19, 2011 10:37 AMReply

    "how many of you are willing to avoid “white films” or films that tell stories primarily about white people (the majority of films made by Hollywood)"

    Okay, let me add my two cents into this deep thought provoking issue that has been covered many times on S&A by many users. The majority of films in Hollywood don’t necessarily tell white ONLY stories. If you seriously take a good look at the majority of Julia Roberts’s films (“Pretty in Pink”, “Sleeping w/ the Enemy”, “Pelican Brief” and “Notting Hill”) the storyline and character background could have been played by any non-white actress at the time. (I can’t think of any names right now) But I wouldn’t go far to say that the majority of films are “white stories” I believe a story is a story if you are Black, White, Brown it shouldn’t really matter if you can relate to it. I must say what I dislike the most is when people see a predominantly Black cast and call it a “Black movie” ex; “Jumping the Broom”, “The Brothers”, “Soul Food”, etc. The list goes on for days.
    But back to what I was saying I think a story is a story but the images portrayed on screen do reflect how people view the entertainment industry. That is why it is so essential for emerging African-American writers, producers and directors to continue to build opportunities for our people to restore our image on screen in a “realistic” way.

  • Laura | July 19, 2011 9:07 AMReply

    I don't go to a lot films because they don't relate to me -period. And it is not based on race (even though that's the icing on the cake) Most films are not made for thinking people who want to be engaged. I go to films based mainly on word of mouth.

    I make exceptions for sci-fi films. But they are putting out sci-fi crap and I refuse to pay. The only film that I would have paid to see within the couple of years is "Scott Pilgrim versus the World". Though initially I had no interested in the film. I was not their target market in any shape, form, or fashion. When one of the commenters on S & A highly recommended the film, I became "stoked". I ordered it from Netflix. I was so "geeked out after watching it that I saw it 5 times before returning the disc.

    Here's my view on white folks not wanting to see to many black in a films. Bunk them sorry-ass negroes who don't wanna to see no Black folk.

    Back in the day white eyeballs mattered because the high cost of production and ROI. Now you can make films for pennies on a dollar.

    The financial necessity to appeal to white folks aka mainstream audience has all but disappear. Let's make our films and hopefully just like African-(whatever ethnicity you want to put in) music -- the proverbial white folks will be interested in seeing some more and then begin copy it.

    Hey , remember not to long ago they said black folks could never be NFL quarterbacks.

  • Afrostyling | July 19, 2011 8:36 AMReply

    Take for instance, that movie Bridesmaid that people wont shut up about. Are you telling me they couldn't find one black woman? Apart from Maya Rudolph?

  • tuesday | July 19, 2011 8:16 AMReply

    I avoid all the silly romantic comedies put out by whiteywood starring white actors because they are not entertaining to me, but a good action thriller or syfy adventure flick puts me in the theatre (matinee only) maybe twice a year.

  • Afrostyling | July 19, 2011 8:14 AMReply

    I do that anyways. The only movies i watch are comic book movies or science fiction. Even black movies that are being released do not represent me. I am very picky about what kind of movies i support.

  • JMac | July 19, 2011 8:07 AMReply

    Been doing that anyway - avoiding all or predominantly white films and waiting until they come on tv (in the rare instance I'm curious enough to see any of them) so I technically don't pay for it.

    I also try to "buy black" as much as I can. Is it making any difference? Neh.

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