brotherpeacemaker

It's about our community and our spirituality!

Racism For Money Is Still Racism

Whether or not Hollywood is more racist is a moot point. If they tend to cater to a racist audience then the end result is the same. Whether or not you believe there is racism in the movie industry or that the industry is only trying to get the money of people who are racist and therefore caters to their wish to treat black people as second class citizens who don’t need to be recognized as equals, the end result is that the black community loses. – brotherpeacemaker

Hi BPM
The reason it matters is because it lets people know where to focus their attention. If Hollywood was more racist then the larger market then presumably we could change Hollywood and see more of the sorts of movies we want to see because they’d still make lots of $$$.

On the other hand, if the industry reflects the larger audience or is even less racist than the larger audience then focusing on Hollywood to finance more Black movies or get more black writers, producers, actors, will only make some small changes at the margins, because the white audience will not respond.

As America becomes blacker and browner I think you will start to see changes in Hollywood but this will lag by 2-3 decades. 30-40 years ago, Will Smith/Wesley Snipes/Denzel couldn’t be the hero in a movie. Now they can be the hero but they can’t get the girl. 10-20 years down the road, their industry descendants might be able to get the girl AND be the hero, because the audience will have changed.Shady_Grady

Shady_Grady,

On the contrary. Racism for money is still racism.  If people who are willing to tolerate racism for the sake of money then they are no different than people who practice racism for the sake of racism. Especially when we live in social conditions that have created a huge wealth gap between the black community and the white community. If we were to recognize acts of racism and blatant discrimination for the crimes that they truly are instead of making excuses and tolerating this social malfeasance then we would consider these people accomplices.

If it was only a matter of money then I could probably understand things a little differently. When you look at the issue from such a small perspective, understanding that for every dollar of wealth that the white community controls the black community controls something like two cents, then yes it would be true that the discrimination in film production is natural and that there would be very little the black community can do to overcome this unhealthy social condition.

But if we look at the history of black cinema it is hard to believe that this is the case. At one time Hollywood managed to produce the types of films that respected the black community. At one time, people in the black community were offered a plethora of entertainment products that were more reflective of the entire black community and not just hip hop culture or crime. How much was Hollywood making then? What changed? If it was just a matter of dollars and black films were performing so poorly at the box office then I could understand that. But even when black films makers develop a reputation for earning money many times over their budget to produce, the financiers aren’t very likely to support the development of more films that could represent the entire spectrum of the black experience.

And I seriously have to disagree with your assumption that thirty to forty years ago black people were not portrayed as heroes or heroic. There were plenty of films that featured black heroes or at least told the story of the black experience from a variety of different perspectives. You had your Richard Roundtree as Shaft, Cooley High, Cornbread, Earl and Me, Uptown Saturday Night, A Raisin in the Sun, Roots, Which Way is Up, Greased Lightening, and so many others. To say that there were no black heroes back in the day is to close your eyes to what we had once upon a time and to continue to make excuses and even nurture the racial discrimination of today that was not always the case. All those black films were not a mirage. They were very real. When you compare that to what we have today it is pretty obvious that we are not witnessing racial progress but the exact opposite.

And as if to add insult to injury the black actress with strong black features appears to be sliding off camera as well. Most black women featured in films these days are in the vein of Beyonce or Halle Berry. Black actresses with strong black features like Cicely Tyson, Madge Sinclair, and Ruby Dee are not being developed. What people want to see are black women with keen Caucasoid features. Case in point, look at Uhura in the latest Star Trek movie. While the producers of that film sought actors who somewhat resembled their previous incarnations, the new Uhura looked nothing like the original portrayed by Nichelle Nichols. This is progress? Back in the day, not only did Shaft get the girl, the girl was easily identifiable as a black woman with strong black features.

But a lot of people are under the impression that if we do nothing and just be patient things will get better because the black community will continue to become insignificant and will eventually be replaced with a larger community of browner people who will more than likely disassociate from the black experience because of the lack of strong black role models who identify with the black community. That is not a day I look forward to. I think the black community is worth my black identity today and not some future promise of a brown identity tomorrow. – brotherpeacemaker

Wednesday, March 10, 2010 - Posted by | African Americans, Black Community, Black Culture, Black People, Life, Racism, Thoughts

4 Comments »

  1. BPM, I did not say that Hollywood was not racist. Nor am I interested in making excuses for anyone’s racism.
    But to argue that it’s primarily or just racism and not profit that makes people finance artistic/business endeavors misses the point in my opinion.

    Notable exceptions aside, there are very few black actors, musicians, artists, writers who earn as much as their white counterparts. This is not because of a lack of talent but because the white audience simply does not support those endeavors to the same extent.

    It really doesn’t matter whether the black themed movie earns its investment back or not. What matters is, again with exceptions, the studio’s chances of making hundreds or millions or billions of dollars are higher with a “white themed” movie than with a “black themed” movie.

    The Black American is 12% of the US population. If the
    67-70% white audience has shown a marked reluctance to see black themed movies then a studio would have to be suicidal to spend a lot of time and money where they believe it to be unlikely to bring a return.

    There are plenty of positive black themed movies in smaller release or straight to DVD. That’s where the change will come from, not from Hollywood. “Honeydripper” was a beautiful film but how many people were even aware of it, let alone saw it. Same goes for “Akeelah…” or “The Great Debators”.

    I should have written ” 50-60 years ago, instead of 30-40″ but the larger point remains. Black films are a minority group. Every now and again there will be some that are incredibly more profitable or popular than anyone expected but since generally whites don’t want to watch such films it will be an uphill battle.

    For example, imagine an epic story told of the Haitian Revolution in “300” style.
    By definition, almost all of the whites would be of course, the bad guys, and incredibly monstrous sadistic bad guys at that.
    Do you think that whites in the US or elsewhere would flock to see that movie? How would you convince anyone to loan you the hundreds of millions of dollars to create a masterpiece telling of that story? It can be done of course but it’s exceedingly difficult.

    We know that Hollywood/the white movie going audience is racist. My response is now that we know that what do we do? We can call them racist all day long but that doesn’t change anything. The only way they fund movies is if they think the film will make a sizable profit. Many (most? of) of Hollywood films lose money which if anything makes them more conservative in laying out the sizable amounts for an epic blockbuster.

    Comment by Shady_Grady | Friday, March 12, 2010 | Reply

    • Thanks for the feedback Shady_Grady,

      But again, I have to ask, if it was only a matter of money, that does not equate when black films are just as profitable as their white film counterparts. Take the many black films that have been named throughout this discussion. They may not make as much money as their white film counterparts. But because they are not as expensive as their white film counterparts they don’t have to sell nearly as much to justify their investment. People who deal in money aren’t necessarily looking at making billions of dollars. The bottom line is ROI, return on investment. If I spend a ten million dollars and earn fifty million dollars as a return, that’s a much better investment than a billion dollars that returns $1.5 billion. The first has a 400% return on the investment and the other has a 50% return. Which one would you prefer?

      I don’t buy the argument that black films are money losers. Far from it! Even your example of The Great Debaters returned $30 million on its $15 million budget. Compare that to something like Will Farrell’s Land of the Lost that had a $100 million budget and to date has made $65 million. Mr. Farrell’s movie Semi Pro did even worse with its $90 million budget and a return of about $45 million. But what are the chances that Will Farrell will get the financing to do another one of his stupid movies compared to another small budget (relatively speaking) black film? Using these numbers as a guide it is actually more foolish to invest in Will Farrell than to invest in a black film. Yes it’s true that Land of the Lost (a very appropriate title) earned $65 million compared to The Great Debaters $30 million. But if people are looking only at the sales then those people should leave investing to the professionals, or at least leave the investing to people with a better understanding of what constitutes a good return for the money.

      You wrote that we should have compared our black cinema today to black cinema 50-60 years ago instead of the 30-40 year range. But to do so would be to overlook the black cinema that we had 30-40 years ago. You originally wrote that the black characters in film wasn’t the hero or didn’t get the girl. But once upon a time they did. That fact should not be lost or ignored. The state of black cinema today is probably better than what black people had 50-60 years ago. But it pales in comparison to the black cinema of 30-40 years ago. The fact that we are not enjoying progress but instead are suffering setbacks should not be ignored or dismissed as a mistake of an incorrectly chosen date.

      White people may not have flocked to see The Great Debaters. It was probably supported only by the black community. But nevertheless, it earned twice its investment. The same is true for the flick Boomerang. I don’t think white people flocked to see it. But it still earned a 200% ROI. And at the same time, white people didn’t flock to see Hillary Swank in Amelia. It cost $40 million to produce and has yet to hit the $20 million mark. Frost/Nixon barely covered its budget. But who is saying that it would be foolish to invest in white films?

      You might say it does nothing to say that Hollywood is racist. I say it does nothing to say that Hollywood isn’t so much racist as it is greedy when black films are money makers instead of the money losers people assume them to be simply because they are black films and white people won’t like them. The assumption that black films just aren’t profitable because white people don’t go see them does not hold much water. If only the black community is making black films profitable then what’s the problem if it is a profitable film? If it was just a matter of money, it looks like the black films are just as profitable as their white counterparts. The black films are much lower budgets with decent returns. The financial support for their continued development appears to be a no-brainer despite the lack of widespread support from the larger, racially generic community that is predominantly white people. So what gives? Besides, somebody used to invest in those black films 30-40 years ago. What happened to make these films such a poor investment today?

      So white people won’t go see a movie about the Haitian revolution. And? I don’t buy the argument that it is automatically a money loser because it tells the story of black people overcoming their white subjugators. But why do we even have to go there? There are tons of black movies that don’t have a thing to do with portraying white people as anything, negative or positive. There’s The Best Man with a budget of $9 million that grossed $34 million. There’s Waiting to Exhale with a budget of $15 million and grossed $80 million. Dreamgirls with its relatively generous budget of $75 million grossed $155 million. Brown Sugar had a budget of $8 million and earned $29 million. Barbershop, with its $12 million budget made $75 million in revenue. The movie Friday had a $3 million budget and turned $29 million at the box office. Even Akeelah and the Bee turned a profit with an $8 million budget and $18 million in revenue. No white people were harmed in the making of these films nor did they require hundreds of millions of dollars to produce.

      This is a small sample. There are plenty other movies that have black themes without the need to down the white population. I’ll go out on a limb and say that the majority of black cinema films developed have nothing to do with white people what so ever. So why do you have to assume white people need to be negatively portrayed in order to make a black film? This is just another false assumption on your part. You are focusing on a fraction as a guideline for the whole of black cinema.

      Peace

      Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Friday, March 12, 2010 | Reply

  2. BPM, you’re missing my point. Your initial post was about Avatar-the highest grossing movie of all time and something which left every other movie in the dust.

    Here are lists of the top grossing movies of all time and the most profitable movies of all time and the biggest budgets of all time.

    http://www.imdb.com/boxoffice/alltimegross?region=world-wide

    http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/records/budgets.php

    http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/records/allbudgets.php

    There is of course significant overlap between the lists. There are very few movies on any list which I think one could argue were “black movies” that were aimed at a Black audience.

    That’s what Hollywood is about ultimately, money.
    For example
    ************************************************
    [US actor Danny Glover, who plans an epic next year on Haitian independence hero Toussaint-Louverture, said he slaved to raise funds for the movie because financiers complained there were no white heroes.

    “Producers said ‘It’s a nice project, a great project… where are the white heroes?'” he told the press during a stay in Paris this month for a seminar on film.

    “I couldn’t get the money here, I couldn’t get the money in Britain. I went to everybody. You wouldn’t believe the number of producers based in Europe, and in the States, that I went to,” he said.

    “The first question you get, is ‘Is it a black film?’ All of them agree, it’s not going to do good in Europe, it’s not going to do good in Japan.

    “Somebody has to prove that to be a lie!”, he said. “Maybe I’ll have the chance to prove it.” ]
    ******************************************

    Comparing a Will Farrell movie to The Great Debators and arguing that The Great Debators shows that black films are being underfunded because of racism makes no sense. The relevant comparison is between something like the The Great Debators and Good Will Hunting. You would have to show, which so far you haven’t, that as a group, black films are more profitable than white films. Is that actually the case?

    And given that not all of the gross of a movie goes back to the studio I think you are making a HUGE mistake assuming a 200% ROI for the studio for Boomerang.

    But let’s say that I’m all wrong and that the discrepancy is 100% all about racism on the part of Hollywood studios/producers/directors/writers/investors.

    Your answer is what exactly? To go to these VERY SAME people that you castigate as racist and ask them for money to fund black films? Why exactly would they do that?
    They are, after all racist… You think all of these studio heads, investors, producers, directors, etc all KNOW that black films are just as profitable if not more so than white ones but they all get together to decide not to fund the sorts of movies you or I might want to see because they don’t want black money?

    The ONLY solution is to create and patronize our own films.
    This is being done today by filmmakers who lack major distribution for their work or go straight to DVD. Decent films aimed at Black audiences are out there.

    And let’s not necessarily pretend that even the sixties or seventies were necessarily a mecca for black imagery. You mentioned actresses like Tyson or Ruby Dee. That time period also included lighter complexioned actresses such as Lonnete McKee, Pam Grier, Denise Nicholas or Vonetta McGee in lead roles as well. If I remember correctly they actually had a rather sizable proportion of the lead roles.
    You also had plenty of movies that to use the clinical term, were BS-just like today.

    I did not assume that white people have to be portrayed negatively in a black film. That’s a false assumption on your part. I was just describing the hurdles a producer or director would face in trying to get backing to depict pretty much the only successful slave revolt in history.

    If it’s not about them, whites , in Hollywood or outside of Hollywood have less interest. In that, they are not that different from Blacks. They are simply in a position where their preferences can drive the market.

    There is no law preventing interested Blacks from doing exactly what the Weinstein brothers did-build their own distribution company and ultimately film studio to create, distribute or market films. So if people are unhappy with the current state of affairs in Hollywood, turn off the Hollywood movies and do your own thing-if you’re artistic-support the creative brother or sister-if you’re not.

    It is what it is. To quote Sean Connery from “The Untouchables”, “What are you prepared to do about it?”

    Comment by Shady_Grady | Friday, March 12, 2010 | Reply

    • Shady_Grady,

      The original post wasn’t about Avatar leaving other films in the dust and not making money. The original post was actually an analogy about technology and how Avatar uses the latest in cinema photography to gather as much information about an image as possible in order to make a more complete three dimensional image of a film about a fantasy land in the future and a hundred light years away that was more realistic than reality. While movie technology is trying to get information from more perspectives to generate better graphics and more realism, we have a tendency to shut our eyes to different perspectives of what is happening in the black community in order to reduce our ability to develop a more complete picture of the impact our racially oriented society is having on the black community and race relations. This is just the first of many points that I have made that you simply do not comprehend.

      If you would take a moment to look at an issue from more than just one perspective you would have more of an opportunity to see an issue with a better understanding of the full spectrum of what is going on. Case in point, your insistence to simply look at a movie’s gross revenue numbers. I do understand your point. A movie like Avatar makes more money and that is all that matters to you. The problem is that your point operates in a vacuum that fails to take into consideration the cost of a film compared to its return on investment. If a film earns a $100 million dollars but cost a billion to make, it is not as good an investment as a film that cost one million dollars to make, but earns $10 million dollars. Okay? No one is saying that the last Pirates of the Caribbean movie didn’t earn a billion dollars at the box office. But if the movie took half a billion to make is that movie a better return of the initial investment than something like Antwone Fisher that cost $3 million to make and returned $30 million dollars? A wise investor would say no. For every dollar invested in the Pirates movie, the investor earned a dollar. For every dollar invested in Fisher, the movie returned $10. A good investor wouldn’t simply look at how much money is coming back. They also pay attention to how much money it took to get that payback. Now do you understand

      Let me give you another example. Let’s say I did something really stupid and took a trillion dollars to make a single movie. I put all my eggs in one basket. But I get lucky. The movie returns my investment and earns another ten billion dollars bonus. I would’ve earned 1 cent for every dollar I invested. Now ten billion dollars is a lot of money to be made and it would shoot to the top of every chart in your little list of URLs. But that’s not the point. I had to risk a trillion dollars in order to make ten billion dollars. That is not a smart investment. The risk of a trillion dollars is not worth a measly ten billion dollars. A smart investor would tell you to run from anyone who pats him or her self on the back for such, relatively speaking, small returns.

      Now compare that to the investment of $10 million dollars on a film that earns its investment plus another $50 million. That investment earned $5 for every dollar invested. Plus, the initial investment was so comparatively small for a studio that if the film didn’t earn money it would be bad but it wouldn’t leave the studio critical. It would be little more than a ripple on somebody’s financial sheet. However, a loss of a trillion dollars would probably ripple through the country’s economy like a tsunami.

      Now, with your complaint regarding the comparison of Land of the Lost to the Great Debaters you really have missed the point that is being made. It wasn’t to show that black films are under funded. The point is that we have one movie making commodity, Will Farrell, being compared to another movie making commodity, the black community. You argue that black films are not profitable therefore they don’t get funding. You claim that Hollywood is all about making money and they don’t make bad investments such as black cinema. If that is the case, why is Hollywood continuing to invest in Will Farrell movies? I don’t understand why you would think that the comparison is unfair. Will Farrell continues to get financial investments. Your theory that it is all about money and that’s why black films don’t get made doesn’t hold true. People in Hollywood continue to invest in money losers such as Will Farrell. Just because you cannot see or understand this point doesn’t mean it has not been made.

      And I will admit that a movie’s gross revenue of 200% over its budget doesn’t necessarily mean that the studio got a full 200% on its investment. But nevertheless, the comparison of a movie coming in at 200% over in revenue is much more attractive than the movie with revenue that comes in at a paltry 30% below its initial budget. I hope you’re not trying to say that the assumption that one film has higher revenue earning percentages than the other is no reason to assume that one film is more profitable than the other.

      You sound like the type of person who, when other black people started talking about the racism of the Montgomery Bus Company, would have made the suggestion that the bus company was just trying to make money by catering to their white patrons. They were the bigger population after all. And if white people wanted black people to sit in the back of the bus, it was just their way of assuring that their profitable white business would remain more profitable.

      And now, with all that out of the way, you want me to give you an answer. You seem to have all the answers you need. You claim that Hollywood isn’t being racist because of racism. They just want to make money from white people. They are willing to invest in a commodity like Will Farrell over and over again because he’s done so well for their investments but white people won’t go see a black film so there’s no way a black film can be profitable. The only solution is for black people to create and patronize black films. And how exactly is the black community going to not only create films without investors, but market them and distribute them as well? Films need financing. Films need studios. Films need distributors. Films need marketing. You can’t just run to Best Buy, get a camera, call yourself a film producer, put your film on YouTube, and then sit back to watch the money from your revenue stream pile up.

      If you truly want to know what I think, what you would call an answer, I would suggest that people in the black community take an honest assessment of our black history and look at what inspired the white community to quit taking our black ancestors and elders for granted. Going back to the Montgomery Bus analogy, the black community didn’t develop its own bus company. Black people didn’t say forget the white people we will just get our own buses. The black community made the existing bus company realize that the black community had value and significance and if they wanted black people to ride their buses like the white patrons, the bus company would treat black people like its white patrons. Black people said they wanted change. Instead of putting up with racial discrimination and making excuses on why it was tolerable, the majority of the black community got together and made a stand. It wasn’t necessary to separate. What was necessary was to come to an understanding that we are in this together. You can’t do that with a white bus company and a black bus company. That would be separate and unequal.

      If I could pull the black community’s strings I would make black people realize that we do matter. Whether it was directly a result of racism or because of greed from trying to make money off of a racist population, if Hollywood don’t want to support black films, then black people shouldn’t be supporting Hollywood. It might be difficult. A lot of us like to see a lot of films that have absolutely zero connection to the black community. But if we want to see more black films then I think the sacrifice is more than worth it.

      You asked me what I’m going to do about it. That’s why I blog about it. That’s why I write about it nearly everyday. That’s why I don’t go see films like Avatar and help feed the Hollywood frenzy. The last movie I paid to see was The Book of Eli. Not exactly a black film. But Denzel Washington does so much for the black community I really don’t have a problem supporting a movie featuring him. He actually contributes to the production of black films like Antwone Fisher and The Great Debaters. My personal boycott of Hollywood normal and my personal investment in black films and the black community and me writing about these issues and trying to educate other people to my perspective is all that I can do. If there is more I’ll be willing to do it. Just don’t expect me to go to Best Buy, get a camera, and start my own production company.

      Peace

      Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Friday, March 12, 2010 | Reply


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