A 10-Step Guide for Racist Studio Execs
Why should people of color pay for a product that erases them and disrespects them?
Unless the film industry makes a major attitude adjustment Hollywood is going to whitewash itself into irrelevance.
A year after the #OscarSoWhite controversy three films telling Black stories and starring Black actors were nominated for Academy Awards. One of these films, Moonlight, won the award for Best Picture. Seems like progress.
This month we have Ghost in the Shell, an anime techno-thriller highly anticipated by fans. Fans who expected the lead actor to be Japanese, as is the shero in the story. The fact that Scarlett Johansen got this part continues Hollywood’s long-standing practice of erasing “other” cultures and colors from the cultural map. A practice that legitimized racism in this country to an appalling degree. A practice that Hollywood has a moral obligation to reverse.
Studios and directors who have criticized for this practice often site financing problems or box-office demands. They need a “bankable” [White] star to get the movie financed, and to sell tickets at the box office. But despite increased audience disgust at the practice, –disgust that has resulted in disastrous box office for The Last Airbender (the casting of that film was so heinous it was called race-bending), Gods of Egypt, Noah (was a White Aussie) and the Nina Simone biopic (blackface in 2016), Hollywood PERSISTS in casting Whites to play POC.
In order to collect the Southern dollar, artists of color were relegated to bit parts in films so that they could easily be cut out for Southern audiences. This practice legitimized racism and segregation in this country.
If the studios had challenged this practice, had they questioned the exclusion of Blacks at all they may well have accelerated the end of segregation. Instead, racism remains entrenched in Hollywood culture and taints the industry as a whole.
Institutionalized racism is hard to overcome. Apparently. Despite sustained public outcry every time White actors are cast as people of color, studio execs somehow can’t resist being racist. So in the wake of the Academy Awards and films like Get Out, we still must contend with the whitewashing of Ghost in the Shell, a beloved Japanese classic of Anime.
Reports that the producers used CGI to make the white actors in the film appear more Asian are just jaw-dropping. Like Zoe Saldana’s Blackface last year for Nina. Seriously?
So Dear Clueless Studio Executives, Directors, and Producers, here is your 10 step plan to stop being racist and make the film industry inclusive.
1 Faking it Won’t Work Anymore
Look at the Academy. They pretended they gave a shit about diversity when they elected a Black female as President in 2013. Did they make a plan? Did they increase diversity in their own ranks? Did they lead and call for more diversity in the industry? No. They did nothing. It wasn’t until they were brought down in a storm of vilification by #OscarsSoWhite that they finally sat down and planned a strategy to diversify the Academy. We can tell the difference between placating and changing. Change now. Get uncomfortable with yourselves. Think of the money you’ll make.
2. Have the Same Rules for Everyone
Establish a standard for diversity in your studio/production company. For every film that goes into production, 50 percent of personnel in front of and behind the camera need to be people of color. Your offices, sets, and films should reflect the racial diversity of the people paying to see your movies.
3. Let Go of Maids, Slaves, Dealers and Ho’s
Stop making films and TV shows that reinforce negative stereotypes about POC. Black and Brown people do make it into medical school quite frequently. Just because you can only see Latinos as maids, gardeners or farm workers DOESN’T MAKE THAT A REALITY. Devious Maids? Fuck You.
4. Use Actors of Color to play Characters of Color.
Self-explanatory. Your lame excuses about financing and box office would disappear if you actually gave a flying fuck about developing non-White talent. Why is it that there are no “bankable” actors of color? BECAUSE YOU HAVEN”T BOTHERED to INVEST IN MAKING THEM. Why? Because you’re racists. Admitting that you have a problem is the first step in correcting it. It doesn’t matter if you have the subject of said films okay with it (Argo, A Mighty Heart, 21). You’ve just paid them hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars for the right to tell their story. They’re not about to come out against it. People of color need to see themselves on screen in their own stories. Beacause truth. matters Because fairness matters. Because your industry has been complicit in the historical oppression and erasure of other cultures. If you don’t have bankable actors of color, then develop them.
Correct it. Read about how deeply wrong Ghost in the Shell is (beyond the casting) in this interview with a group of Japanese actors who saw and analyzed the film.
5. Colorize Your Offices
You have to have POC in positions of power. When you don’t, then crazy shit like the Nina Simone/Zoe Saldana thing happen.
Hint: if you find yourself changing someone’s skin color for a part and they’re not playing an extra-terrestrial, then you’re in a bad place.
6. Don’t Plan a Bait and Switch
We’re not asking to be hired without merit, we’re asking to have the same opportunity as White actors and technicians. Don’t hire the same three actors and directors over and over because you don’t know any others. Don’t exploit and demoralize a talented person of color so horribly that they wind up leaving the business in disgust. Take sensitivity training.
7. Give our Stories Equal Budgets
Don’t shortchange stories about people of color with puny budgets and no resources. Give directors of color the same budgets and access to resources available to white directors.
8. Pay us the Same as White Artists and Techs
Pay equity is a must. Don’t screw over your diverse hires by paying them less than your White employees. Anything less is immoral.
9. Mentor, Promote and Support
Mentor POC in your organization. Don’t set them up to fail by throwing them into the fray and not offering guidance, advice, and support. Offer advice and guidance in developing their craft and their careers. When you see exceptional talent, nurture it. Your organization will be stronger for it.
10. Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat & Youtube
Don’t say that you can’t find any Black, Latino, Asian or Native American talent. It’s not true and no one believes it. It’s 2017 for the love of God. Use f’n social media.
An earlier version of this post appeared on the MsLake blog in 2016