And It’s Still Not Funny
Drama Masks Painting

Put the joking aside. The silver screen is cause for sadness.
Image by RaeDuSoleil via Flickr/Creative Commons

I wish the Academy Awards had segregated seating. They already sort of do; actors, producers and directors sit in the front, grouped by their film and/or how powerful they are in Hollywood, while screenwriters and tech designers sit in the back and get less time for their acceptance speeches. But I wish seating were segregated by race, ethnicity, gender, title and clout so we could get an annual visual of what the power players in Hollywood look like as a group.

As this statistic points out, older white men are the majority of people deciding which movies win awards. I re-learned at a talk yesterday by Dr. Frederick Gooding (aka “The Race Doctor”) about race in mainstream movies that the Writers Guild of America and Directors Guild of America are 90 and 98 percent white, respectively, so white people are also the ones constructing the narratives audiences see. (I don’t have the gender breakdown of the membership, but the DGA does keep track of how many women and non-white people are directing episodic television, and it’s a paltry sum. Additionally, a recent report by Women’s Media Center found that “less than 10 percent of the directors of the top 250 domestic grossing films of 2012 were women.”)

And they’re also constructing the jokes audiences hear (live and via Twitter). I know; they’re jokes. But you have to consider who’s making them and their power v. the power of the jokes’ object.

I’ve read three—count and read them: one, two, three—brilliant pieces about Seth MacFarlane’s and The Onion’s jokes on Oscar night, and I would have nothing to add, had I not attended this talk about race in movies. Here’s the gist: The images we (and movies play everywhere so “we” is everyone in the world who sees movies) see—which are constructed mainly by white men—tell us what to think about non-white people, and too often, they teach all of us to think about minorities in negative archetypes. Even in casts that appear to be racially diverse, the quality of the role for the minority reflects a lack of progress in terms of race in this country. Minorities exist in the white world but aren’t invited to partake in it fully. And it impacts real life in ways that are sometimes deadly.

This is not a new concept to me. What’s new is how hopeless it feels. The presenter ended with an impassioned plea that little black girls (specifically Salecia Johnson, a child who, at six years old, was arrested and handcuffed for hours for throwing a temper tantrum at her Georgia school last year) have images of themselves on the big screen that show they are valued and deserve better. I immediately thought of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” star Quvenzhané Wallis and smiled. And then I thought about an Onion writer’s tweet calling her cunt (all in jest) and wanted to give up.

The effort to tear down powerful, positive images of black girls and women is disturbing at best, and in 2013–that’s the 21st century, the Emancipation Proclamation’s 150th anniversary year–it’s rampant, accepted and funny. And to maintain current power structures when the white population is dwindling, it’s needed.

But I do not wish to maintain the status quo. If you don’t either, then please stop laughing.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


2 thoughts on “And It’s Still Not Funny

  1. Hey! I was at Dr. Gooding’s talk, too. I was the “aspiring screenwriter” who asked about a writer’s responsibility when it comes to offending or NOT offending one’s audience. I really enjoyed the talk. Opened my eyes a little wider. Thanks for this article, as well. Hate I didn’t recognize you. I would’ve said hello. 🙂

    1. Hi Christian,

      I didn’t stay for the whole Q&A so I missed your question. It’s a good one, but unfortunately, one I think only black or other minority writers think they have to ask, and usually they’re trying not to offend other minorities or reinforce negative images of themselves. On the other hand, always having to be aware of stereotypes and how they affect how non-white people are treated in real life is a heavy burden to bear for a creative person. Viola Davis talked about that when she was on Tavis Smiley’s PBS show the year “The Help” came out. And a writer whose name I can’t remember right now wrote about this in a review of “Lincoln” and “Django.” (It was entitled something like, “How White Men See Slavery.” I encourage you to Google it if you haven’t read it already.)

      Another problem with the responsibility Q is that most screenwriters have so little power once the script is sold, sometimes the most carefully written script with the best of intentions doesn’t matter.

      Thanks for stopping by the blog!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *