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Where are the Blacks and Latinos in Hollywood?

Where are the Blacks and Latinos in Hollywood?

L.A. Times columnist Patrick Goldstein gets in some sharp digs at racist Hollywood in this column about John Singleton’s Universal deal to make five pictures under $15 million for the studio. “Wouldn’t Hollywood do a better job of creating movies that speak to this multiethnic audience if the studio executive suites weren’t so lily white?” asks Goldstein.

Not only does the article focus on the lack of black powerplayers in Hollywood, but also the lack of Latinos. For instance, Franc Reyes, who is directling the first film in the package, made “Empire,” the most successful film from Sundance 2002. But he hasn’t directed a film since. When Goldstein asked Singleton why, he answered: “He’s almost 6 feet tall, he’s Puerto Rican and he’s opinionated. Being Puerto Rican has made it tougher for him, no doubt.”

Spike Lee tells Goldstein: “Forget about what’s right, if you’re dealing with a pop culture that’s so driven by Latinos and African Americans, you’d think it would just be good practice to have people of color in those jobs. But when they are making the big decisions, about greenlighting movies and TV shows, we’re not participating.”

The head count is pretty dismal, reports Goldstein. “A survey of African American or Latino production executives at a vice president level or higher found one executive at 20th Century Fox, New Line and Paramount, none at Universal, Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures. After three days of trying, I couldn’t get an answer out of Disney’s corporate publicity staff, so I’m guessing they’re at zero too. Whenever I would ask studio chiefs for an explanation, there was usually a long, awkward silence.”

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What he says is sadly very true. I’m praying things will change as Warner Books just bought my urban Latino novel, FOREVER MY LADY and there is talk of it becoming a film.

Forever My Lady


While the points that Goldstein raises are of course very important, one cannot overlook the fact of the matter that before there can be a greater exposure of black and latino cinema, the question must be asked, what truly qualifies as “black” or “latino” cinema in the first place. Both groups have been lumped into the so called urban market (which I suppose now automatically means that such films are representative of the black or latino experience). Perhaps this is a question that can’t even be answered, but what is clear is that those types of films cannot be what is considered entirely representative of a group’s experience.

The other pressing concern is the quality of the films in the first place. It is one thing to say we need to see more black and latino decision makers as this may result in more black or latino films, but more of what exactly? Waist Deep? Soul Plane? According to Goldstein the first film is “Illegal Tender,” a family drama about a young man and his mother who try to escape the drug-fueled violence of their old neighborhood in the Bronx.

Is this really a story we haven’t heard before? Does it not serve to simply continue to reinforce the notion of what is considered the totality of the black and latino experience (even in urban settings there is a greater diversity of experience that escaping gangs and drugs). It’s not that I believe these stories should not be told, it’s just that they have been told over and over again for the last 20 years (by Singleton as well). As the aspiring “Godfather” should he not truly be looking to move things in new directions?

This brings me to my final point. Other than Spike Lee, which other still popular “American” (cannot overlook talented filmmakers of color outside this country) filmmaker of color that has made what others would consider urban films has actually sought to make groundbreaking experimental work. Why is John Singleton (other than for fiscal reasons) a legitimate leader? “Boyz in the Hood” is a film that barely holds up 15 years later and he has done no other work that inspires one to put him in a leadership role. In none of his interviews has he bothered to comment on the effects that his choices as a filmmaker have on what the “white” suits choose to put out and of course the greater sociological implications of some of those choices and how they reflect popular perceptions of blacks and latinos (i.e. – the pimp with the heart of gold – gimme a break).

So ultimately if we can’t answer for what direction will actually move black and latino american filmmaking (of all types) forward and if we don’t have the leaders (other than Spike) who are truly interested in breaking new ground, we have larger problems than needing more black/latino suits. Remember, just because they are black/latino doesn’t mean they won’t still have a job to do as business men and women (nor should it necessarily expected otherwise – or well at least its a bigger question about the state of commerce and popculture in general).

It’s about the work, be it black, brown, white or otherwise. Without good work all the suits and money can only take you so far.

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