Who gets the remote? Representation and location in the entertainment industry

by julie.brown on March 7, 2016 - 2:42pm

With the repeat performance of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, the treatment of minorities in the film industry has been put center-stage. The not-so-shocking truth: non-white actors aren’t given the same opportunities as their white colleagues, and the proper representation of minority groups is more than lacking in Hollywood productions.

Actress Lucy Liu (Kill Bill, Charlie’s Angels and Elementary) spoke up about the problem of race-casting in the industry, as related by S. E. Smith in xoJane. She realizes that the roles offered to Asian-American actresses like herself are limited by a poor set of stereotypes, only able to choose between being “the Asian girl who beats everyone up, or the Asian girl with no emotion. People see Julia Roberts or Sandra Bullock in a romantic comedy, but not me,” Liu adds.

In an interview with Elvis Mitchell, Joaquin Phoenix (Her, Walk the Line) also stresses how invisible this dismissal of minorities has become. Films where the lead isn’t played by a white actor are so far and in between that anything else stands out. “That’s something that I think white people don’t notice,” he adds. “They don’t notice that the fourth character is black and that’s what it always is.”

Instead of being cast in leading roles, people of color are consistently slotted into what an article for Slate calls “hoardy old stereotypes”. On repeated occasions, Hollywood producers have chosen to go with majorly (and overwhelmingly) white casts, rather than represent the cultural and ethnic diversity of the communities they are trying to portray. For instance, while only one-third of New York’s population is white, shows like Friends or HBO’s Girls only call on minorities for what Kendra James of Racialicious says are “one-liners and nanny roles.” The Slate article also mentions many other controversial casting calls, from The Hunger Games’s Caucasian Katniss Everdeen to the all-white cast of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender, whose Nickelodeon counterpart originally starred almost exclusively people of color.

The appeal for proper representation in ‘Holywoodian’ productions has been growing louder and louder. However, it appears to take on a different tone when we look to Quebec.

Roy Dupuis, a French actor who was solicited to play Toussaint in The Revenant, gives particular importance to the historical French-Canadian figures in the Oscar-winning film.

“We barely see them during the movie,” he says in an article for the Quebec Huffington Post, “but when we do, it’s to show them as awful barbarians. It’s the French-Canadians that rape, that hang and that own sex slaves.” He laments their depiction, declaring that “they have the worst of roles”.

So while it seems that race and ethnicity dominate in the call for better representation in American media, Quebec’s plea focuses on history and language, which more strongly reflect the province’s cultural identity. Amid a sea of 'Americanized' content, Quebecers value their unique bilingual roots, and don’t want to see this facet of their identity ignored or mistreated.  

Fortunately, sponsored content from Videotron in the Montreal Gazette announced the company’s intention to address the issue. September 2015 saw the launch of MYtv, a new part of Videotron’s community channel, MAtv, which “broadcast[s] a minimum of 20 per cent original English language content per week, designed to reflect local interest.” This is not to say that cultural and ethnic diversity are of no importance to the Quebec people; indeed, senior director Steve Desgagné states that representing minority populations “is a major objective, including aboriginal people.”

But in Hollywood, investing in proper representation remains a risky business venture. The distribution of George Lucas’ film Red Tails, a film about the all-black Tuskegee Airmen, was paid for out of Lucas’ own pocket, as no one would finance its circulation. “Hollywood, for a number of years has maintained the status quo by saying black films do not have an international value,” says Terrence Howard, a black actor, at an event organized by the Congressional Black Caucus to promote the film.

According to Howard, the stakes are incredibly high for this production; the actor goes on to add that “if George Lucas does not profit from this, then the rest of the industry will see no profit in black people.”

The way each community has tried to address the issue of cultural identity in North-American media speaks to how different both situations are. But in terms of attempts to remedy the overwhelmingly homogenous bank of content being created, they’re certainly on the right track.

 

SOURCES:

  1. “Lucy Liu Talks Racism in Hollywood”, S. E. Smith, xoJane, May 13, 2013.  http://www.xojane.com/entertainment/lucy-liu-talks-racism-in-hollywood
  2. “Joaquin Pheonx discusses racism in Hollywood”, Yesha Callahan, Clutch Magazine, Oct 2012. http://www.clutchmagonline.com/2012/10/joaquin-phoenix-discusses-racism-in-hollywood/
  3. “‘PLEASE SUBMIT ALL ETHNICITIES’: The Tricky Business of Writing Casting Notices”, Nina Shen Rastogi, Slate, July 13, 2013. http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2012/07/casting_and_race_the_tricky_business_of_writing_casting_notices.html
  4.  “Dear Lena Dunham: I Exist”, Kendra James, Racialicious, Apr 19, 2012. http://www.racialicious.com/2012/04/19/dear-lena-dunham-i-exist/
  5. “‘The Revenant’, un film anti-canadien-français selon Roy Dupuis”, Ismaël Houdassine, Québec Huffington Post, Jan 22, 2016. http://quebec.huffingtonpost.ca/2016/01/22/the-revenant-reaction-de-roy-dupuis_n_9057998.html
  6. “MYtv gives Anglos an opportunity to create local programming”, Sponsored content from MYtv Videotron, Montreal Gazette, Apr 22, 2015. http://montrealgazette.com/news/local-news/mytv-gives-anglos-an-opportunity-to-create-local-programming
  7. “Terrance Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. on Racism in Hollywood”, Alyssa Rosenberg, Think Progress, Sept 23, 2011. http://thinkprogress.org/alyssa/2011/09/23/327875/terrence-howard-and-cuba-gooding-jr-on-racism-in-hollywood/

About the author

Julie Brown is a Digital Imaging and Studio Arts student at Champlain College. She is very interested in matters concerning culture and the arts, as well as youth matters, technology and social activism.