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. Hollywood has a moral obligation to reverse that erasure.
Studios and directors who have been criticized for not hiring diverse casts 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 (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 and normalized the exclusion of blacks from the film industry and legitimized racism across the country.
If the studios had challenged southern theaters or just ignored demands for black erasure from movies, the studios may have accelerated the end of segregation. But that would have meant losing money, something Hollywood can tolerate less than racism. So white supremacy remains entrenched in Hollywood and American culture.
Despite sustained public outcry every time white actors are cast as people of color, studio execs somehow can’t resist being racist while denying it the whole time. 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
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences 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 the #OscarsSoWhite controversy that they finally sat down and planned to diversify the Academy. That’s the difference between placating and changing. Change is the only acceptable action now. Get uncomfortable with yourselves. Think of the money you’ll make once you hire actual Africans to play Egyptian Kings and Queens.
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, law school and astronaut 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. Not the cross-burning, hood-wearing kind of racist, no. You’re the kind of racist that only doesn’t question the status quo and believes that stories about people of color don’t make money. Whoever convinced Eva Longoria to change her show about a Latina surgeon to Devious Maids is a racist, white supremacist motherfucker.
Admitting that you have a problem is the first step in correcting it. It doesn’t matter if you have the subject of whitewashed 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. Because truth matters. Representation 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. Develop writers, directors, set designers, costume designers and cinematographers of color.
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 to find and nurture material that tells our stories. 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 and women by paying them less than your White male hires. This goes for offices ans well as in front of and behind the camera. Anything less is immoral. A person of color’s work/talent/skill is not worth less than a white male’s work.
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