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What’s Wrong with Being Black and Chasing Your Hollywood Dream?

What's Wrong with Being Black and Chasing Your Hollywood Dream?

As a writer with a dream, but also a big fan of this site which I’ve been reading for many years since I first discovered it, I take time to read through the comments from other readers as much as I can, to get a sense of what general perceptions are on whatever a post is about. And I’m always taken aback when I read comments that belittle, or look down on actors and/or filmmakers especially, who are chasing the proverbial “Hollywood Dream,” as if there’s something antithetical about being black AND wanting to work within the Hollywood studio system.

Is there?

I was reminded of the video clip below (posted on this site a number of times in the past) of a very frank Sam Greenlee (“The Spook Who Sat By The Door”) sharing his thoughts on the state of “black cinema,” being independent, being outsiders as black people in the industry, embracing our outsider status, and what all that means, adding (his words) “if you want to be a rich ho, move to Hollywood…,” implying that, from his perspective, Hollywood isn’t a place for “us” – “us” being black people – and we shouldn’t even bother chasing that “dream,” unless you want to sell out, which is like one of the absolute worst things a black person can do, because nobody wants to be called a sellout, right?

What I’m trying to understand is why Hollywood and “Indie” have to be mutually exclusive. Even the definition of the term “indie” itself seems to continue to broaden.

Obviously, as we all know, it’s a challenge for people of African descent in this industry. I don’t think I need to elaborate on that. The proof is in the pudding. These issues have been talked about to death on this blog. So if you’re entering the business with the long-term goal being to work primarily within the Hollywood studio system, as opposed to as an indie (and all the differences between both worlds), you should already be familiar with the struggles that likely lie ahead for you, as a person of color in a system that marginalizes people who look like you, both in front of and behind the camera.

Is that a fair assumption to make?

Not that it’s any easier as an indie. Being an indie comes with its own share of challenges. But I think that I’d say that generally, for those who’ve chosen to strictly traverse the indie path, freedom of expression (in story, form, structure, etc) is probably what’s the most attractive about being an indie, as a filmmaker, having full creative control over your work, meaning you can take as many creative and even fiscal risks as your heart desires, without big brother looking over your shoulder, or pulling your strings.

Obviously that’s not a steadfast rule because, depending on how you obtain financing for your indie movie, you still may have to succumb to the requests of your financiers in the end. But I’m just running with that as a key difference between working within those two worlds. 

And being black adds another layer of challenges for you to work through, although far be it from me to suggest that we (black people) are in any way helpless victims, who have no control over our own destinies. But there seems to be a general belief that to work within the studio system means to understand and embrace the fact that you’re really NOT in control.

But again, if you’re entering the business, you should already know all of this, and be prepared for anything. 

So I’m curious to know how many of you up-and-coming talents (filmmakers, actors especially) have set their sights on Hollywood, despite how any disadvantages being black might stifle your career? And if you are, is there any “shame in your game,” so to speak? Do you feel outside pressure to give up that dream and take a different path? Do you have a plan of attack? A pre-planned path to success? Or are you just riding the wave, and will see where you land?

And if you’ve already decided that Hollywood isn’t for you, and you’ve committed to being entirely indie, despite the immense challenges ahead, I ask the same exact set of questions.

Obviously it doesn’t have to be one or the other. You can exist in both worlds at the same time. Several people already do, and have been successful not having to choose one path or the other. Is that something you can envision, or do you believe that, as artists, especially marginalized artists, we must pick a side?

Just a survey to generate some discussion.

Here’s the video with Greenlee.

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Courtney Singer is a writer living in New York City.

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