In a good interview with NPR earlier today, Jimmie Walker of Good Times fame, had a few things to say, when host Michel Martin asked him to respond to criticism (then and still now) of the show that would make him a star – specifically, the notion that it encouraged and exploited stereotypes of black people.
In addition to challenging those criticisms by exalting the show’s pros (like the many issues that affected the black community that it did tackle), Walker argued that it is essentially because of the fact that we (black people – although, in fairness, not all of us), routinely (and reductively, I might add) reject what we deem as “negative” depictions of black people on screen, so much that Hollywood studios, and other financial risk-takers in TV and film, are less willing to back productions that tell complex stories about black people.
In short, they (the studio execs and financiers) would rather just not deal with the hassle (in the form of outrage or protest from the black community), and thus, suggesting that, unlike what many believe to be the case – that Hollywood isn’t sensitive to the lack of variety in its productions – is instead the opposite; that Hollywood is very sensitive to the feelings and needs of under-represented groups (in this case, black folks), because they are concerned that certain depictions of black people wouldn’t be embraced.
Take for example, the recent petition to boycott Flight, because of the kind of character Denzel Washington plays – a drunk, drug addict who has a relationship with a white woman, who’s also an addict.
I believe it was Boyce Watkins who started that petition, although I don’t think anything came of it – thank goodness for that! (CORRECTION – as Dr Watkins notes in the comment section below, he didn’t start the petition; he only wrote about it in one of his blogs. I should however, also note that Dr. Watkins suggested a boycott, with respect to Denzel Washington’s performance in Flight, arguing that the Academy only seems to reward black actors when they are, as he stated, “forced to debase themselves and play to racist stereotypes in order to be recognized.” Read The Hollywood Reporter’s piece on that HERE).
Here’s Jimmie Walker’s quote:
What happens is, it also is reflective in black TV shows and movies, that you’re not gonna get anymore of those because of the constant complaining, moaning and groaning… The point is to make money. And therefore, the network themselves have actually stopped doing any ethnic shows, because they don’t want the aggravation… What has happened is that any minority character you see on a show now is always the police commissioner, the head of the hospital, the school superintendent. Those kinds of people don’t invoke followers. The people who are going to get attention are the wacky guys… who eventually become stars… You’ll never see a black Will Ferrell, You’ll never see a black Adam Sandler, because black people aren’t allowed to play those kind of roles.
So does Walker have a point there? Are we, in essence, partly to blame here for the lack of variety in depictions of black stories on screen, because we are, albeit unintentionally, discouraging studio execs and other financiers from taking any risks with us and our stories, because they aren’t quite sure how we will respond to one kind of portrayal or another, and would rather just not deal with the hassle?
What do you think about what he’s saying there?
And, by the way, Walker also added that he’s doing a Showtime special, titled It’s Not All Dy-no-mite, which will be recorded in Raleigh, NC soon, and will air on the network some time after.
Feel free to listen to the full interview HERE.