Essay Writing 2
12 July 2011
Is Hollywood Racist Toward Blacks?
In 2002, the awarding of the Oscars, which is the most important distinction in the movie business, took place, and that year black actor Denzel Washington was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role , just as his colleague Halle Berry (“Oscars”). Whereas Washington’s win was the first for a black actor since 1964, when Sidney Poitier had won this award, it seemed to become a turning point for African Americans (“Best Actor”). Halle Berry won the award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, and, consequently, she became the first black woman to win this honor (“Best Actress”). For Washington it should not have been easy because one of his opponents was Russel Crowe, who had already won this award the previous year (“Oscars”). After the announcement, everybody in the Kodak Theatre stood up to applaud for Washington who has won his category. Therefore, the fact that blacks have been treated differently in the movie business came to people’s minds; it can even be maintained that Hollywood is racist toward blacks.
It doesn’t seem like African Americans were discriminated by Hollywood because actors like Samuel L. Jackson, Denzel Washington – as mentioned above – or, even much earlier, Sidney Poitier have received leading roles. The latter, for instance, received a great number of roles; many of them were leading roles as in Lilies of the Field (Mapp 125). However, few black roles existed in films at the beginning of the 20th century and, they were initially portrayed by whites such as Uncle Tom, “the American movies’ first black character”, in the 1903 motion picture Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Bogle 3). This prevented African American actors from getting those roles. At the end of the 1920s, Afro-American roles were still acted by whites and civil rights organizations, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), fought the way African-Americans were treated in the movie world (Bogle 24f.). During this period, black films were marginally famous and “none was successful at the office” (Bogle 34), meaning not many cinema tickets were sold. There were too many influences from different sections of Hollywood trying to oppress black actors from performing in motion pictures and it functioned.
Incorrectly, some might claim that Hollywood has shown respect to African Americans by assigning them diverse roles in movies so that many different types of characters were portrayed by blacks: from the mindless criminal Doughboy in Boyz ‘n the Hood portrayed by rapper Ice Cube (Mapp 71) or “the gigantic but Christ-like John Coffey (Micheal Clarke Duncan)” (Gabbard 147) in The Green Mile to Dorothy Dandridge’s role as Carmen Jones with her “own brand of sexual appeal” (Mapp 16). Conspicuously, most of the characters blacks were allowed to portray had stereotypical features. One of the first appearances of a stereotypical character was Mammy, played by Hattie McDaniel, in Gone with the Wind. This role represents an overweight, good-natured servant who works for a white family, is always friendly, and is anything but rebellious (Bogle 9). This representation, and the fact that Mammy is derogatorily called nigger (Mapp 9), compares Mammy to the oppressed and enslaved blacks. Furthermore, male performers often play brutal, callous, drug-dealing, urban criminals who can be seen at Wesley Snipes’ Nino Brown in New Jack City (Bogle 341) or at “the long haired, stylishly dressed cocaine dealer” Youngblood Priest of Superfly (“Ron O’Neal (I) - Biography”). Other instances of stereotypes are athletes who switched from sports to the movie business, and who mainly portray the types of characters they are in reality instead of being allowed to demonstrate their acting skills. These actors, such as former footballer Woody Strode or boxer Jersey Joe Walcott, were almost always reduced to their physical qualities and their sporting abilities (Bogle 185). As can be seen, African American actors were even discriminated against by the roles they were allowed to play in motion pictures because the characters pigeonholed them into portraying stereotypes.