Sunday, June 29, 2008

Concerning Hollywood

One of my regular readers (Archtype) has asked a question in my chatbox. Lets give it a quick response. However, I'm curious, so by me answering this, I now expect you (Archtype) to tell me how you came across my blog in the first place. Heres the statement
hmm i just realised -the top 10 highest grossing movies of all time do not have any black actors in major starring or main roles. moral of the story ,if you want to make a blockbuster -dont hire black people .... MJ rebuttal? - Archtype
Firstly - This is not a rebuttal in the traditional sense - My aim is not to pick out flaws in the hypothesis but to provide my opinion on the statement. Secondly - there are two lists of the Highest grossing movies off all time - One that takes inflation into consideration and the other which doesn't - from your subsequent statements I see that you are referring to the second list (does not take inflation into consideration). Personally i believe the first list is a more accurate reflection but we as a generation prefer the second list for two reasons - the first is that we are familiar with more of the titles in there, and secondly we buy into the marketing.
Lets paste the top ten movies (not taking inflation into account) and take it from there (taken from Wikipedia)

1Titanic $1,848,813,795
10Jurassic Park $914,691,118
Ok - so apart from Eddie Murphy who provides the voice of Donkey in Shrek 2 ( I don't know why you are discrediting animation though) there are no Substantial African American roles in the top ten.
A question that might follow out of this debate is 'Is Hollywood racist?' But heres the thing - it isnt Hollywood that determines a movies popularity, but the consumer.
Before we go further, I want to make a note about demographics as this is very important. I strongly believe in a representative democracy (like what we have in South Africa) So for instance - Muslims make up two percent of the population in South Africa while Christians make up around 75 percent. With this in mind, we can see how the SABC caters for these two religions in terms of broadcasting time allocated - Christians get more time. I have no problem with this whatsoever because we still have Diversity and proportionate representation. In America 80 percent of the population is Caucasian. Only ten percent of the population is African American. I would argue that it actually seems like there are more African Americans than there really are due to the impressions given by American broadcasting. Heres another thing to note - Hollywood has no mandate (unlike the SABC) to provide any sense of diversity whatsoever - Hollywood is primarily motivated by an economic factor. We can also see parallels in the fashion Industry (Research shows that Black cover models lead to weaker sales of magazines - again - this is consumer driven)
In that regard, your hypothesis holds weight, i.e - to make a Blockbuster movie, don't have any African American leads. But is this a case of racism in Hollywood per se? I dont think so. The history of Hollywood cinema is peppered with movies that reflect the current era or that age. Look at Blaxpoitation Cinema as an example.
Now lets look at the top ten and take it from there.
There are only three movies that break the Billion dollar mark (In the unadjusted list)
I wouldn't expect Titanic to have a Black lead as that will be highly implausible. Firstly, it was set in 1912. Secondly, the ship set sail from England where there weren't many Blacks in the first place at that time. Finally - even though there were Inter racial romances back then. This was done in secret as any type of Public affection led to lynching etc. This subject is touchy today - can you imagine how it would have been 80 years ago. I mean, Even Rosa Parks was 40 years later.
2 and 7. LOTR - Return of the King/Two Towers - Again - hard to mess with the source material. Middle earth was envisaged by Tolkien as a surrogate for the lack of Anglican mythology (as opposed to Greek or Roman mythology) And before anyone comes up with the ridiculous idea that Orcs represent Black people, they aren't even the same species as Men.
3 and 5. Pirates of the Caribbean - Taking into account weaponry and the East Indian trading company (which is fictitious by the way) I'd place the trilogy at around 1810 or so. With this historical context we can see why it would be improbable to have a Black lead - Black Captains were rare those days. What you will probably see coming out of my crude research is the subordination and oppression of the Black Man throughout history (as opposed to throughout Hollywood specifically) Also, bear in mind that all positions of Authority were held by White Men - Elizabeths dad was the Governor of Jamaica etc
4 and 6. Harry Potter - again - sticking to the source material. Ask Rowling why none of her Lead characters are Black
8 - Star Wars Episode 1 - This is actually a prequel of the 1970s stuff and since the only major (I wouldnt even say major) Black role was that of Lando Calrissian (I stand to be corrected - my Star Wars knowledge isnt that strong) Star Wars Episode one couldnt really do much in this sense - I mean, you cant have Anakin having Black parents now could you? In Star Wars defense, they did cast Samuel L Jackson as a Jedi I think. Oh yeah - Vader isnt Black (for those who think he is)
9 Shrek 2 - Eddie Murphy plays the role of Donkey - high Five
10. Jurassic Park - Allahu Alam. Again - hard to mess around with Chrictons original (the novel). I googled Black Paleontologist - theres only a handful. So that rules out that. Also - Hammond is one wealthy mofo. Have a look at the Forbes 400 - No Black Billionaires prior to 2001 (When BETs founder Bob Johnson made the list) So it would have been unrealistic to cast a Black actor for that role. I can see the irony in saying this, especially since the movie itself deals with dinosaurs.
I can exhaust this topic further looking at other media like Video Games, comic books, cartoons etc but I'l stop now as I think have already typed too much. This has been a fun post, and is reminiscent of the type of questions my students ask me. I really enjoy answering stuff like this. So thanks Archtype. Anon 2- I havent forgotten about you - I will do a post on the Conference and the Fatwas this week as well.
Just to put World Cinema into perspective - The highest grossing Bollywood film 'Om Shanti Om' (unadjusted for inflation) made just 20 million dollars. And even if you took the adjusted list which places Sholay at the top - this movie made just 55 million dollars which is about a quarter of what it took to make Titanic!


Unknown said...

my history is sketchy on dutch east trading company. but it's based on the megacompany from holland which traded and controlled most of territories.
all the black people in the windies are of african origin with the original inhabitants wiped out mostly by colonists.
with regard to the movies, you have to look at the kind of themes promoted in those texts, it doesnt really reflect the so called black interests.

SingleGuy said...

looking at the list of movies I agree, there is not much scope for black actors in those movies, beside maybe playing slaves in the Carribean. I do remember in the original Pirates movie there was a black chick on the crew of The Black Pearl.

Furthermore, the actor that played Darth Vadar may not have been black, but the Voice of James Earl Jones surely is one of the main reasons why the character is as memorable as he is.

So if a movie starring a Black Person would get on that list, it most likely would be a black person with crossover appeal, such as Will Smith. Where does Independance Day and Men In Black fall on that list?

I had a look at the inflation adjusted list, and it doesn't look very different. Gone With the Wind is on top though. Ironically, the movie is made in pre-liberal movement 1930's USA, is set in the deep south on the conservative side of the American Civil War, and features black people as slaves, (one of which won an Oscar for her role), AND it was the first movie to be shot in TECHNICOLOR.

ALSO there are 3 animated flicks on that list, BAMBI, SNOW WHITE, and Lion King. If it wasn't for Lion King, I could have have made a dirty joke about the other two. Lion King also feature the voice of James Earl Jones.

Anonymous said...

how i came across your blog i dont think is important. why the urgent need to know? the reason i keep reading i guess cos as i keep saying . Its rare to see a young muslim male who writes so well. I wont read your blog anymore if thats what you want, sound like your a bit weary of me...

M Junaid said...

Hamish - did you hear the Pirates of the Caribbean theme when Spain won the Euro? Fitting music.

SG - Hers something i just thought of - the character of tia Delma - Id say she had a bigger role than Chow yun Fat yet I wouldnt call her a major role. hmm - tricky.

Independence day - 18
MIB - 41 (both taken fron unadjusted list)

Archtype - Where does it sound like im weary of you? I wanted to know because recently Ive had an influx of new readers coming from different websites (not other blogs) Ive had peeps come from Muslim websites to pop culture sites etc. Please continue reading my blog - I enjoy our debates. If i dont want people to read my blog i'd make it invite only - right now anyone who has access to an internet connection is welcome to read my concerns