Segregated TV = Segregated Reality

Once I was complaining about how racially monolithic a particular show was. Then I realized, it didn't bother that the show didn't include any minority characters; it bothered me because for most people, that's what their world actually looks like.

Introduction

When I started this post, there were so many things I wanted to get in to, but then the post kept getting longer and longer... So I tried to get to the heart of what I wanted to say. I could talk forever about the importance of "black" movies in our society or how awesome it is to see stories reimagined for minority audiences. Instead, I kept my focus on the three types of movies and shows I see in the industry, because I think once you recognize these types of movies the rest will come to you on it's own (I hope!). Each of these types of movies is a commentary (perhaps unintentionally) on our society. One represents the world I wished we lived in. One represents the world people think we live in. And one represents the reality of our society.

The Three Types of Movies

Movies fall into three different categories when it comes to race. I called them racially monolithic, racially inclusive, or racially blind,

Racially Monolithic

1989
Unfortunately, most movies are racially monolithic. In these movies there maybe a token character, but for the most part, the characters are all one color. The majority of movies, especially mainstream movies, are monolithically white, however, there are movies/shows that are monolithically black, Asian, or even Latinx. As I mentioned in a previous post, sometimes the premise of a show or movie calls for this type of cast. My problem is that even when the situation doesn't mandate this type of cast, we still see it.

These movies, which make up the majority of what we see, are an unfortunate reminder of how segregated our country still is. Did you know that 75% of white people have no non-white friends?[7] Perhaps that's why we still have a very segregated world in the movies.

Racially Inclusive

My favorite type of movies are those that are racially inclusive. These movies feature a cast from various backgrounds and cultures without belaboring the plot. A franchise that did a great job with this is The Fast and Furious. I wrote a post detailing why I love the cast of this movie a while back, so I won't rehash that here.[1] The basic gist is that the cast contains white, black, Latino, and Asian characters that aren't stereotypical, and the movie never makes a point about race. In short, the movie seems to live in a true post-racial society.

Unfortunately, the only other movies or shows produced in the U.S. I can think of that looks like this are Lemonade Mouth and Big Hero 6. All other racially inclusive movies and shows that come to mind are produced in foreign countries: 3% (Brazil), Backstage (Canada), and Degrassi (Canada). This isn't to say that they don't exist, just that I have not seen them. They're definitely harder to find than racially monolithic movies.

Racially Blind

Have you ever seen Roger's & Hammerstein's Cinderella or Still Star-Crossed? If you have, it was probably jarring to you at first. Characters are obviously cast with complete disregard to race. It's like the casting director was colorblind. While the director may have chosen actors and actresses they truly liked without ever thinking about color, the end result is a bit garbled. Viewers spend half the movie trying to sort out the hows and whys, likely missing important details in the movie, because the blind casting doesn't take into account context, circumstances, or history.

In this version of Cinderella, Brandy plays the lead role of Cinderella. Her stepmother is played by Bernadette Peters, a white actress, which is still logically possible. However, Cinderella's stepsisters are played by Veanne Cox (white) and Natalie Desselle Reid (black). Although it seems a bit weird at first, it could still be possible for both women to be the biological daughters of a white woman. In general, black people span a large range of shades. As such, there are instances were siblings from one white parent and one black parent appear to be of a different race.[3] There's also the possibility that Cinderella's stepmom is on her third husband, which also makes sense given her conniving personality. Just when we thought we had it figured out, we meet the royal family. The prince is played by Paolo Montalban (Phillippino), the king is played by Victor Garber (white), and the queen is played by Whoopi Goldberg (black). Theoretically, the prince could be adopted, though it seems unlikely that an adopted child would be next in line for the throne. Historically speaking, the king's brother and/or nephews would probably have launched a campaign of legitimacy and stolen the crown from an adopted heir.[2]

Still Star Crossed, a TV show that picks up where Romeo and Juliet left off, has similar casting choices. In the world of this show, the Capulets and Montagues are racially diverse families which seem to have become so illogically rather than strategically. For example, in my family, it started with a generation that decided to marry interracially. Given this, my generation and the one after it, are automatically diverse. This is logical and makes sense; it became expected as soon as the interracial marriages took place. In Still Star-Crossed, however, the diversity isn't related to marriages across races at all; it just is.[4]

I find this method of casting interesting. On the one hand, I enjoy it because it reminds me of school and community plays where they simply cast the best person for each role. It projects a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere, where success is based on talent, not on color. In a world where most of the characters brought to life on screen are assumed to be white unless otherwise stated, racially blind casting allows minority actors and actresses to audition for the same number of roles their white counterparts may audition for. The more roles available to you, the more likely you are to earn one, and the more roles earned by minorities, the more representation we achieve.

On the other hand, the fact that when I begin these types of movies or shows I am confused and puzzled by these juxtapositions of race, says something about how deep into our subconscious race really is. If we truly lived in a post-racial America, we wouldn't think about color at all. The points I make about how the relationships could be possible wouldn't need thinking on because it would be common. As it is, we don't see such blending of races which causes us to find it "weird" subconsciously—and that's weird.

The Introduction of "Race Swapping"

2012
One of the most frustrating things in school was sitting in my English classes while we read "classics" which only featured white characters. The same annoyance strikes black viewers all the time, especially in previous years when minorities were given even less screen time. To bring some of these classic to black audiences, often a movies are remade with a black cast.

Examples

  • Steel Magnolias
  • The Wiz (remake of the 1939 Wizard of Oz)
  • Polly (remake of Pollyanna)
  • Death at a Funeral
  • Annie

A White Remake of a Black Movie

Interestingly, the opposite happened with Seventeen Again and 17 Again. Though, 17 Again isn't exactly a remake of of Seventeen Again but the plots are pretty similar! Chances are it's just a coincidence (like Friends With Benefits and No Strings Attached), however I wanted to mention it since I've met people who seem to think Seventeen Again is a remake of 17 Again. This is the one instance where the black movie came first.

Why These Movies Are Important

The same way women identify more with a seeing a female superhero (e.g. Wonder Woman), we identify with characters that look like us racially. Growing up I found movies like Polly to be incredibly inspiring. This is the only movie I remember as a kid that was about a black child. If your memory of characters that look like you is like mine you understand the importance. If not, try to imagine a childhood where all the stories are about someone else.

References

  1. Ree Hughes. "The Fast and Furious: Diversity in Hollywood". PSALMS to God. May 31, 2015
  2. "Cinderella (1997)". IMDB; visited February 2018
  3. Chris Perez. "Meet the biracial twins no one believes are sisters". New York Post. March 2, 2015
  4. "Still Star-Crossed". IMDB; visited February 2018
  5. "Black Remakes of White Films ". BET. October 1, 2012
  6. Dorlean Stevenson. "10 Classic Remakes That Gave Minority Actors The Spotlight". Buzzfeed. March 28, 2014
  7. Christopher Ingraham. "Three quarters of whites don’t have any non-white friends". The Washington Post. August 25, 2014

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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