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S&A 2013 Highlights: Why White People Don't Like Black Movies

Shadow and Act By Andre Seewood | Shadow and Act January 17, 2014 at 11:18AM

S&A 2013 Highlights: Why White People Don't Like Black Movies
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Why do Black people like White movies?

The short answer here is that we don’t have much of a choice.

Many of the big budgeted, summer and holiday tent-pole blockbusters often have a majority White cast and/or feature Blacks and other minorities in supporting or non-influential roles.  These blockbusters have massive screen ratios from 2500 to 3500 screens and equally massive marketing campaigns designed to tickle the fancy of even the most discriminating viewers and/or their children.  Long running franchises that often begin as White films start to add more color to their casts over time as a way of sustaining and extending their audiences as was proven recently with the Latino upgrades in the blockbuster, Fast and Furious 6.  Moreover there is a vast catalog of decades and decades of films where Whites (and ethnicities who feign Whiteness) make up the majority of the cast, often with no Blacks at all or Blacks in menial roles that are still pleasurable to view by Blacks and Whites alike.    

The White film is narrowly defined here as a film with at least one White in the lead role or co-lead role and Blacks or other ethnicities in supporting or non-influential roles where the narrative resolves itself by giving more dramatic attention to the emotions and circumstances of the White character(s).

Another more profound answer is that it is not just the race of the cast members that we as Blacks are empathizing with when we watch a “White” film.  Some of us might be acknowledging the tacit notions of White privilege, power and control that can be reduced to the higher class status often ascribed to Whites that many other races and ethnicities aspire to exercise in a highly economically stratified society such as the United States.  Even as the United States becomes increasingly less White (in its population aggregate) the notions of privilege, power and control associated with upper class status is still seen through the prism of Whiteness on the movie screen.  

It is a question of agency. We watch Whites exercise power, privilege and control in “White” films because some of us aspire to exercise that same type of agency ourselves so we, for lack of a better phrase, roll with the Whiteness that we see on the screen.  We don’t sneak out of the Tom Cruise movie when the lights go down.

Returning to the research on the Racial Empathy Gap- the researchers at the University of Milano-Bicocca found that some Blacks lacked empathy for those of their own race and their findings suggest that class and social status- which is inextricably tied to race in this country can have an inhibiting effect with regards to empathy.  “It turns out assumptions about what it means to be black- in terms of social status and hardship may be behind the bias…  First, there is an underlying belief that there is a single black experience of the world.” (4)

For many Blacks to exercise a sense of power, privilege and control similar to Whites a material emphasis is placed on Class divisions within the race which subsequently affects their empathy threshold with regards to members of their own race.       

What can be suggested here with some degree of certainty is that the two vectors of Race and Class have an effect upon empathy thresholds.  The effect, which could be measured using the same techniques as those in the two Empathy studies, might potentially reveal that Race is a stronger impediment to Whites with regards to Black films just as Class is a stronger impediment to certain Blacks when they watch Black films (e.g. Hood films v. Black Rom/Coms).  For example, even though a Black upper class exists (both historically and in the present day) as was documented in the book OUR KIND OF PEOPLE: Inside America’s Black Upper Class by Lawrence Otis Graham, we rarely see films made about this Black upper class and the world they inhabit because of this,” underlying belief that there is a single black experience of the world.” (ibid)

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