By Sikivu Hutchinson
Powerful master of the universe filmmaker George Lucas spoke recently to John Stewart about how even he was unable to get his new film “Red Tails” on the Tuskegee Airmen made. Red Tails took two decades to produce. Despite the film’s “jingoistic” patriotic American brio Hollywood didn’t want to back or distribute a film with an all-black cast and no white male savior. According to Lucas, major studios balked because the absence of white characters would translate into minimal overseas box office.
Lucas’ experience is no revelation. The American film industry remains among the most segregated in the country. When white America settles into its seat at the local multiplex on the weekend it’s generally met by the comfortable image of middle American heroism, romanticism and drama–safely scrubbed of any black, brown, Asian or Native American faces. As one of the most powerful mediums of cultural propaganda on the planet, the film industry is still an empire of white corporate control. A 2002 study by UC Santa Barbara professors Denise and Bill Bielby concluded that rampant cronyism, arbitrary hiring practices and the racial biases of bottom-line oriented foreign investors have kept both the film and TV industries bastions of whiteness. Further, the absence of studio heads of color exacerbates the exclusion of people of color from the old boy networks that often dictate hiring, promotion and the green lighting of films in the industry. This includes development and apprenticeship programs. According to the online journal Diverse Issues in Higher Education, “Of the 2,057 entertainment companies contracting with Hollywood’s Writers Guild…only 12 offer writing programs targeting people of color.”
Lucas on the John Stewart show
But now that the U.S. has transitioned to post-racialism and colorblindness maybe we can bring back minstrelsy (officially that is; Tyler Perry notwithstanding) and have white actors like Ben Affleck and Tom Cruise play patriots of color in full blackface regalia to lure the heartland and racist global audiences to “black” movies.