Let me make this very clear, I am white. Not only am I white, I’m a ginger. I am also gay. I don’t know if any of these qualities afford me any special insights into what it means to be white, or what sunscreen to use, or if I know how to rearrange your wardrobe, but I guess it should be a disclaimer.
I also, have some other disclaimers: I went to film school (which I spent a decade paying off). Going to film school doesn’t mean much (I had plenty of male classmates whose main objectives seemed relegated to blowing things up and getting girls to reveal their breasts), but I did study required materials and studied outside of what was required.
I also have a strong attachment to diversity and positive representations in everyday life of minorities, particularly in the media. Not that every character depicted in fiction or race of person depicted in news be that of a powerful, uplifting spirit – some of the juiciest most intriguing characters written can often be the most vile and corrupt. Overall, the media melting pot needs to have a better concoction. The recipe needs to feel balanced. We all need to see ourselves represented passionately in media and not routinely aligned with negativity or invisible.
I also understand the limits, requirements, and esthetics artists choose to represent in their work. For instance, don’t cast kids with braces on their teeth in period pieces. I understand that a film taking place in Montana may very well not contain one drop of tan skin in the entire movie. Montana, demographically, is brimming with Caucasians, with much smaller populations of Native Americans. At times, locals have joked with me there were more cattle in Montana than people (another disclaimer, I grew up in Montana). Although, the history of Montana has had many African Americans and Chinese Americans who had mined, laid railroads – lived there. There are a litany of stories that can be told about Montana where various faces, genders and races of people can be explored. It’s doable AND believable.
I also understand how Hollywood has repetitively abused these esthetics to cast mainly Caucasians. Whether it’s another Italian mob story, another Shakespearian tale, or a remake of an old classic… for many this is a coded way of, once again, white preferential treatment.
I also understand, now living as an adult in New York City, seeing a movie or tv show take place in New York, and if you don’t cast one Indian, Asian, Latin or African American character you’re committing downright heresy (although I’ve been to plenty of weddings in The Hamptons and I’ve wondered what happened to all the ethnicity.)
A friend posted an opinion piece by self-proclaimed poet, author, and activist Olivia Cole, entitled “Lucy: Why I’m Tired of Seeing White People on the Big Screen”, from The Huffington Post.
The first sentence of the article reads, “I’m tired of seeing white people on the silver screen.” I laughed thinking this read is going to be a great adventure, perhaps even uplifting. Then there was the second sentence, “First, let me note that I am white.” I became all giddy with excitement thinking perhaps I’ll read something of great progressive & enlightened brio.
So, to put it bluntly, this ginger liberal is already in the fan camp of whoever this Olivia Cole is (plus her name reads like Olivia Pope, Kerry Washington’s character in ‘Scandal’… and I just LOVE me some SCANDAL!)
Miss Cole hits on all these relative and insightful points regarding diversity in film, in particular her somewhat critic’s review of the movie ‘Lucy’, starring Scarlett Johansson. She hits upon the aspect of ‘white by default’, as a casting mechanism – where most of the main actors and subsidiary actors are more often in Hollywood cast Caucasian. Cole laments how even in another recent venture to the cinema, the movie ‘Hercules’ had literally no people of color cast, except for the lead Dwayne Johnson and his “mixed-race wife, whose skin was almost alabaster”. Cole details how darker skinned characters are portrayed as more tribal and primitive, how in many apocalyptic movies “somehow only white people survive”. All of these ideas of the diminished roles of darker skinned people and the prevalence of white skinned supremacy is a preoccupation Hollywood has had for far too long. There needs to be, in my opinion, a routine exorcism of sorts, of these inclinations of marketing the white face.
I was taken back, however, by how she framed her arguments.
“I’m tired of black women in Hollywood being relegated to the roles of slaves and ‘the help’ over and over again” and, as I have done, links a post from Racismstillexists.tumblr.com. On this post, there is a list of all the nominated black recipients for an Academy Award pre-2014. Personally, I don’t know why Cole selected dated material to frame her argument. Out of the 32 recipients listed (spanning awards by producers to actors), only two roles were awarded to actors who played a slave (Hattie McDaniel as a house slave in ‘Gone With the Wind’ and Denzel Washington as an former slave turned soldier in ‘Glory’) and domestic worker during the 60’s civil rights era (Octavia Spencer in ‘The Help’). There is no other reference in the posting supporting the statement “over and over again” (although I don’t understand why she couldn’t highlight Lupita Nyong’o’s recent 2014 Oscar win, which turned her into an international sensation for her portrayal in ’12 Years A Slave’). How is this supportive material? It wasn’t until ‘Django Unchained’, ’12 Years A Slave’ and ‘Belle’, had recent movies about American slavery been depicted. Compared to the genres of romantic comedies, action adventures, domestic dramas and period pieces, the plight of African American slaves virtually has a sliver of a corner in American cinema. Though this may make many extremely uncomfortable, I literally think Hollywood hasn’t nearly done ENOUGH movies that truly explore the depths and ramifications of slavery and the abuses of labor. In fact, the only film in the American public consciousness on slavery had been ABC-TV’s 1977 television miniseries ‘Roots’. According to most websites highlighting American produced movies about African American slavery, besides the above, there is 1997’s ‘Amistad’, which has often been sighted as an updated version of the 1962 movie ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, (whose only real similarity is white lawyers representing black oppression). But, if you google American produced movies about ‘slavery’, some of the listings include 1995’s ‘Braveheart’, 2000’s ‘Gladiator’, 2001’s ‘Planet of the Apes’, and 2005’s ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’. Cole doesn’t seem to want to acknowledge non-slave movies with with African American casts… my gosh, I could list a hundreds of thousands but I don’t see the point. I’ll instead just say a couple names: Tyler Perry, Kevin Hart & Will Smith. I find this particularly insulting to all the great African American filmmakers, actors and legends who have graced our silver screens and flat screens at home.
Then Cole takes the biggest jab at the recent release called ‘Lucy’. She infers the movie presents us to “their vision of what the most evolved woman on earth looks like: A blonde white woman. See, I just can’t get right with that.” It’s at this point Cole boasts that she was an “anthropology major in high school” and by the time she was 16, she learned all about Australopithecus Lucy – the oldest hominid “we know of”. Cole then asserts that when Scarlett Jo’s Lucy comes into contact with prehistoric Lucy, that it’s happening in North America. I don’t know how she’s perceived this. I also don’t know how Cole came to the conclusion the filmmakers were presenting Johansson as the evolution of mankind becoming a blonde white woman. Her character’s “evolution” is actually a freak event (she is a forced drug mule whose contents of a new drug bursts in her stomach after she’s battered) and in no way was the film inferring blonde and white is the evolution to mankind. In fact, the most evolved character in the movie is played by Morgan Freeman – a black man – who didn’t need a freak accident to enlighten him to scientific knowledge. His character applied himself to an evolved existence. And not to spoil the ending (oh boy, spoil alert), when Lucy reaches 100% evolved capacity, she turns jet black (mind you, not African American, but literally ink, jet black).
Just a note about Morgan Freeman, I do realize he somehow has become the face of God. Even though he’s only played God a handful of times, Morgan Freeman seems to be the go-to actor for playing roles of great wisdom and authority. He’s even been written as being type-casted as such.
Cole takes another stab at inferring the film’s subtext is some form of a white supremacy agenda – “we still end up with a blonde white woman with flashing blue eyes as the stand-in for what personifies evolution and supremely fulfilled human potential”. Well, if Cole paid attention to the movie, she would have recognized that Lucy, when embattled in the throws of transformation, her eyes actually changed a multitude of colors. Even animal and lizard like. Cole then derives the filmmakers were alluding to “humanity at its end, at it’s most perfect”, when blonde, white blued-eyed Scarlett Johansson meets prehistoric Lucy. This is strictly Cole’s interpretation of what was inferred – a completely subjective opinion that I cannot endorse as objective. Plus, Lucy doesn’t BECOME blonde – she already is blonde. She doesn’t evolve to blonde. The only time her hair color changes is when after she has become mutated, she can change her hair to long and dark at will. Basically, we as the audience see what we want to see. Cole see’s Scarlett Johansson as the face of the future… I just thought she was the spokesmodel for SodaStream.
But I think my favorite part of her intensive, anthropological, peanut gallery expertise, was when Cole starts analyzing the depiction of Asian characters.
Currently, if you read Cole’s piece, she references the movie taking place in Taiwan. This is only after she amended the piece. Originally, she referenced China as being where all the action takes place (mind you, diversity in Asia typically has Asians beating all other races hands down… except if you watch 2013’s Pacific Rim).
China, Taiwan, who cares, right?
This is where I take issues with diversity and those who champion it. Are you championing diversity for all, or a selected group? And if that select group is just African Americans, don’t you owe it to yourself to have more knowledge of American American cinema before commenting on it? We’re talking about being internationally published here – not mild, unsupported rants on Facebook.
If you cannot understand and see Asian characters, actors and their countries of origins and how those origins are important, how can you expect anyone with knowledge in diversity to support your argument? Cole, rather poorly, states the movie takes place in China, when if she actually saw the movie, would realize it did not. Is she guilty of stereotyping all Asians? Asians are from China by default?
If one is championing diversity are you including all forms of diversity, or just inclusions of a select few?
Furthermore, here is another great moment in diversity clearly missed – Cole does nothing to recognize our lead “Chinese” bad guy, Korean actor Min-sik Choi. Choi plays Mr. Jang, ruthless crime lord, whose performance in the 2003 Korean hit ‘Oldboy’, got such worldwide attention, Spike Lee made a remake in 2013. Interestingly enough, instead of casting an Asian American as the lead, Spike Lee opted for a white actor, Josh Brolin (who I guess I should disclaim shares the same birthdate as me). What a missed opportunity to relay THOSE facts of whitewashing!
But Cole can’t relay those facts, because she simply is NOT knowledgeable on American Cinema, much less any knowledge on foreign cinema – yet she has a forum to rant on an international website, The Huffington Post. You would think, someone, so passionate about “diversity” and a connoisseur of anthropology, would have some appreciation for that which is not spoon feed to us American minions.
For film aficionados, the quickest and easiest comparison of a white-woman-revenge-killing-spree-of-minorities, is Jodie Foster in ‘The Brave One’.
So, I send Miss Cole two simple tweets on Twitter, since she boldly lists her Twitter account for all those to follow her – engage her – I don’t know… find her?
So, once again, in full disclosure, I said the following: “@RantingOwl I want 2 support your LUCY outrage but u fail to recognize Morgan Freeman- the actual smartest character in the entire film.” Along with the sharper: “@RantingOwl u also commit the biggest bigoted sin: confusing Taiwan for China and Korean actors for Chinese. Your anthropology needs review”
And her reply…
She was “told” the film was in China? Does this mean she didn’t even see the movie? Why did she have to be told? Google the movie – Taipei is all over the place, if not actually in the movie.
Morgan Freeman’s character, who is the most naturally evolved character in the movie, as one black actor “does not make a diverse film”? Ok, I can agree that he was the only main black actor, but is there nothing to be said for the Korean, Chinese, Italian, and Irish actors cast? Lucy’s righthand police assistant and potential love interest is Egyptian actor Amr Waked. Frederic Chau, who is also cast, is known as the first Asian-French stand up comedian.
My issue here is I believe Cole is guilty of another kind of subtler bigotry… not seeing Asian people… not seeing other ethnicities, background and origins. She only sees diversity if it is spoon fed to her. She laments about being frustrated constantly seeing African Americans as slaves and ‘the help’, but there are no slaves or domestics in this movie. Spotting one black person in the film is not a talent. If her argument is “there aren’t enough African Americans in this film”, fine, I can understand that. If her argument is “why can’t Hollywood do movies like Lucy but starring Taraji P Henson or Jada Pinkett Smith”, I can relate. If her argument is “there isn’t enough diversity of actors”, she’s blatantly cherry picking what she considers “diversity”. I might also remind her, the movie starts out in Taipei, not the hot bed of white people, black people or latin people.
She does mention one black woman “who delivered one line and who we never saw again”, but cannot bring herself to mention Morgan Freeman at all.
Mind you, she never mentions anything about Native Americans in her article. So if she’s tired of seeing “white people”, than who exactly does she want to see?
She recognized the premise that the Lucy character was an aimless college student, whose roommate, when divulging a seemly typical diatribe, exclaims her frustration working on a film set where everyone is speaking Chinese. Cole doesn’t recognize the joke here. The joke, that I guess I have to spell out for her, is that the origins of the Lucy character, and the people she has in her inner circle, ARE THE ENTITLED IDIOTS OF SOCIETY. White American kids roughing it in a foreign country not giving a damn about the culture around them. The film opens with Lucy having flashbacks to binge drinking. These aren’t “evolved” people, much less people we as the audience should aspire too. Lucy inherited her “evolution” by accident – not natural progression or natural selection. Lucy was one step above white trash, so to speak.
Though Cole cites obvious neglect in the kaleidoscope of skin tones in the manufactured world of Hollywood storytelling, she doesn’t have the knowledge base to champion the depths of injustice yet parades herself on social media as an activist.
She’s geographically challenged, racially questioning, yet has an international platform on the Huffington Post to spew whatever insights she cares to deliver.
Of course, I’m saving the best for last…
Cole states in her tweet “HuffPost has been made aware and are changing the copy” – “however you’re nitpicking. And trolling. So I’m blocking you.”
So… let me get this straight… I inform you of your misunderstanding of cultures, you admit there was a mistake, but because you made a mistake, I’m the troll? I should be blocked? Yet Huff Post will change your words to how I corrected your mistake… hmmm… what does this sound like to me?
White. Woman. Entitlement.
How did this work in high school for young anthropologist Cole… if the teacher graded her paper an notated “references not cited”, did this make the teacher a troll? Am I a potential stalker now that I engaged in correcting misinformation to a blogger who openly references all the websites to follow her at? What the T F is up with people?
And let me also cite a particular DANGER here in wanting Hollywood to ignore story lines about African American slavery and the plight of domestics: not only would you be denying hundreds of years of history, you also are denying a societal ill that most often needs to be examined: capitalism’s undermining and abuse of labor. So in essence, you’re saying don’t make these movies that specifically have affected African Americans.
Also, compare the amount of movies concerning the Holocaust to American slavery. I actually think there’s probably more movies about Madea than slavery in the last decade!
Here, I had so much hope for a gal with the name similar to Olivia Pope from ‘Scandal’. Olivia Pope is all about having her ducks in a row… having the power… the knowledge.
Cole ends her piece by saying “Give us more films like this year’s Annie”, where Jamie Foxx and Quvenzhane Wallis play leading rolls, traditionally played by white actors. Is this the remedy? Remakes? Give us more ANNIE??? And this remedies what exactly? If there is a lack of creativity in creating strong, dominant, story driven black characters, oh wait, I meant diversity of all characters, let’s just remake marginal films and change the ethnicities? Wow… now that’s coming from a self proclaimed poet and activist!
Oh dear!!! What has happened to activism???
White entitlement… Cole doesn’t need to look to Hollywood to find it… she can find it by simply looking in the mirror.
And sorry, to Miss Olivia Cole, if you feel I’m a troll and nitpicking. I too am tired of white entitlement and those who cherry pick.