In the same week that a Denzel Washington interview with BET, during which colorism in casting in the film and TV biz was discussed, led to much confusion and debate about what the veteran actor’s words on the issue meant, as he found himself on the receiving end of criticism (whether legitimate or unfounded)… Tyler Perry and Lee Daniels are also in penalty boxes for somewhat related comments made during interviews they gave – Perry to the AP (Associated Press) and Daniels to the New York Times.
First Perry, who launched his first scripted TV series with an all-white starring cast (his name is already on 4 different series on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network, each with all-black, or mostly black starring casts), has had to react to a lot criticism (mostly from black audiences) of his TLC series titled “Too Close to Home.”
His words to the AP yesterday: “That’s totally reverse racism, because it was coming from African American people… I don’t know if it was because they thought I should only be giving jobs to black people. Well, I think that’s ridiculous. If you look at the hundreds of black people I’ve given jobs to and even the ones I’ve made millionaires, people of color, I just think it’s unfair. I’m just finding out more as I travel the country and world, the more I meet people, we’re all the same… We all got the same dramas. So I’m not seeing color as much as I did anymore in the sense of our stories. Our stories are so similar.”
Maybe Mr. Perry needs an education on this so-called “reverse racism” phenomenon as some have labeled it, and the systemic relationship of power, before he uses it to support an argument.
That said, he is correct that he most certainly can give jobs to whomever he wants to; and since his entry in the early 2000s, he has definitely hired more black people (film and TV) than maybe any other black content creator of his specific industry stature, as a member of the so-called black Hollywood elite. Spike Lee might be the only one who trumps Perry, when you consider how long he’s been in the business, and the 2-dozen or so films he’s directed, as well as those he’s produced for others – many of them grads of NYU where Spike lectures. Although I don’t know if I’d necessarily consider Spike Lee a member of the black Hollywood elite. And today you have people like Ava DuVernay embracing and actually putting into practice the notion of inclusivity. But one thing critics of Perry and his work cannot say is that he hasn’t supported black talent, in front of and behind the camera, for many years.
However, when he makes charges of “reverse-discrimination” by African Americans, and claims that he’s not “seeing color as much,” he presents a defensive stance that also demonstrates a lack of awareness and privilege.
As for Lee Daniels, in a profile published on the New York Times’ website on December 28, as his new Fox series “Star” premieres (which has a white female lead – “I wanted to show a white girl that had some swag” as “part of the healing process… I wanted white people to feel cool. I wanted them to not be made fun of. We are one”), the writer/director/producer was “sent into a fit of frustration” says the article, when the #OscarsSoWhite protests was brought up by the interviewer. His apparently fuming response to the controversy was: “Go out and do the work… Oscars so white! So what? Do your work. Let your legacy speak and stop complaining, man. Are we really in this for the awards? If I had thought that way — that the world was against me — I wouldn’t be here now… These whiny people that think we’re owed something are incomprehensible and reprehensible to me. I don’t expect acknowledgment or acceptance from white America. I’m going to be me.”
Daniels’ words obviously drew much criticism across social media, but he’s certainly no stranger to controversy, so I doubt that he’s losing much sleep over any of it, especially when you already have one hit show (“Empire”), and a potential second hit show in “Star” premiering.
But Daniels isn’t the first to share these views on #OscarSoWhite; recall Anthony Mackie’s “We’re [black people] being lazy on our game” comment 5 years ago that caused quite a stir, as he further explained that, in essence, black creatives and executives at all levels needed to step up, come together and do something about the near-dismal state of things at the time; and Morgan Freeman couldn’t be bothered at all in the same year when he said “I think we need to get over that shit” after he was asked about the lack of diversity (specifically black talents) during awards season during a BET interview. “How many Chinese do you see?” he asked the interviewer; “You don’t see them out marching and shit. Oh God please. I think … We need to get over it, that’s all.” Needless to say, those comments didn’t sit well with many. As I recall, it was the subject of one of the most popular posts on S&A in 2011, drawing 100s of comments.
But Freeman did seem to soften his tone a bit this year, when asked in February by Variety about #OscarsSoWhite. His more measured response was: “I can understand why the noise came up. But to me, it’s just noise. If we’re going to talk about diversity in the film industry, we don’t need to start with the Academy Awards. We need to start somewhere way back — with the producers, the directors, the casting agents, the writers. It should be an open field. I think in today’s world, if you look out there, that’s what would reflect today’s America.”
There have been a few others who’ve publicly echoed Lee Daniels’ thoughts, although they haven’t been as pugnacious about it, essentially, as he does, labeling #OscarsSoWhite advocates as “whiny,” “incomprehensible” and “reprehensible” people. Mighty venomous and quite unnecessary words there sir, for a significant movement (one that went mainstream and actually led to real change) that just wants a very influential industry and its product to reflect the people who effectively support it. Or maybe he doesn’t know what those words mean, or just isn’t aware of how powerful his words might be. “Reprehensible”? Obviously he’s not interested in engaging with the movement in any way.
Thoughts on any or all of the above?
In closing, I’ll leave you with a video clip (the late Sam Greenlee’s advise to black filmmakers) we’ve shared many times on this blog over the years: