Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Going Against the Mainstream's Current

Anyone who knows me can attest to my screenwriter aspiration. Due to said aspiration, I'm usually studying the industry with obsession. One particular hot word floating around amongst fellow screenwriters is: mainstream. And the desire to fit into its mold. Usually this desire is fueled due to one reason: mainstream = money.

Now, the long-accepted axiom is that the mainstream consists of White people. They are mainstream mainly because they make up the most movie ticket sales, thus they are worth more money as a whole. In order for the majority to spend money, the movies must have their stamp of approval.

And therein lies the conundrum.

One major requirement in terms of receiving that stamp of approval is an actor. Usually when discussing commercially successful films, the actor (or actors) have the major burden of carrying the film. Selling the film heavily relies on the actors chosen. And for a while now, the widely-known argument has been that Blacks can't be mainstream because Whites can't identify with them.

To that, I offer this pictorial response:

Maybe he's White with a hell of a tan?

Yeah, him. Now, I've heard he's only where he is because he's one of the "safe" Black actors. And that may be true. He is mostly loved and accepted by mainstream America and hasn't really been controversially outspoken in terms of race relations and tension-filled topics of that like. But, still, that's not the point. The argument is that Whites can't identify with Black actors because they don't look like them. No matter how "safe" Will Smith is, he's still Black. Still at the opposite end of the color spectrum. And he has managed to portray roles written for mainstream White males, portray roles that don't center around his race and has even surpassed Mr. Mainstream himself in terms of consecutive box office sales: Tom Cruise.

Why can't Black actors be the star of mainstream films? Why does, as soon as you slap a Black actor into the headlining role, it is labeled a "Black film"?. Now, don't get me wrong, there are certain films that pertain to our specific culture that is very different from that of White culture. They highlight experiences that are unique to Blacks; things that Whites don't experience or necessarily understand. And I'm not saying those films are necessarily bad things. What's bad is we are pigeonholed into the same types of films, featuring the same types of actors, doing the same types of things. It becomes bad when it's our only option.

Do we always gather around mile-long tables filled with soul-food, do the Electric Slide in forest preserves, dress up in old lady drag, overcome racial injustice, lament about our no-good men, or save our downtrodden women from their abusive husband? None of these aspects of our lives are things to be ashamed of, but they're not all of who we are. We aren't just big mamas, we're also lawyers. We're not just gossiping in barber shops, we're saving lives from alien abduction. We're not just hanging around neck-rolling with our girlfriends, we're finding love with that person we least expected to find love with. We're not just finding redemption in an urban jail cell, we're teaching urban classrooms (That's right, other than what movies lead you to believe, there are actually Black knights saving the urban classrooms).

You mean to tell me that had equally talented Black actors portrayed Meg Ryan's and Billy Crystal's characters in "When Harry Met Sally" and everything else remained the same that the hugely received thesis, "Can men and women be friends?" wouldn't have still resonated with the majority of audiences? This is what I'm talking about, my people. Don't feed me the bull that it's the actor that the audience mainly connects with, because I'm not hungry. It's the story that leaves an impression dented into our heads...our souls. Not how the character looked, but the choices they made.

And there is absolutely no proof that we can't tell these stories. I think it's pretty telling that unless there is some overt display of slang in the dialogue or an explicit description of race written in a script that says otherwise, a reader automatically assumes the lead character is male. Which means, White is the default.

Set "White" as default? Naw, I'm un-checking that option.

Love ya like Will Smith loves 100 million dollar box offices,



Shawn Smith said...

Very good point.

With the cancellation of The Game and other similar shows, the question arose again as to where are the prime time, major network black shows.

Aside from Tyler Perry's shows and TNT's Hawthorne, I can't think of a major leading black person in a show.

Cheekie said...

@Shawn: Yeah, network TV and Blacks can probably merit a post in and of itself. I might do that one in the future.

It's interesting how we (Blacks) admit to watching all-white shows such as Friends (where it's been discussed as to why there weren't any Black folks in a major city located tv show), Seinfeld, Frasier and the like, but the reverse is whether admitted or discussed. At least I haven't heard many White folks that admit to watching The Game or Girlfriends...and the reason is because they can't "relate". It's funny...

Journey to my soul said...

Apart from Tyler Perry, alot of channels are not giving black shows a chance. TNT has become like the WB now.

What you pointed out in your reply to Shawn is correct. It stems from Whites not really watching shows with black actors or even giving it a chance. When theres no audience theres no money.

What I hate the most is that many whites sabotage black films. Pick any black film you consider great and google reviews of it or go to, and you will find the rating to be super low...umm...I wonder why? :|

Shawn Smith said...

There are only a few black lead actors that have crossover appeal that they can attract audiences.

Maybe Queen Latifa (Secret Life of Bees, Chicago)

There are those that tried:
Jamie Foxx
Don Cheadle
Ice Cube (cause I don't think "we" watched Are We There/Done Yet?)
Martin Lawrence

But like we said, any movie with a majority black cast falls into one of the slated categories of a "black film".

I didn't think Obsessed was a black movie (I have a whole different review as to the quality of the lead) but the majority of "us" went to go see it.

Cheekie, you mentioned Girlfriends, but what I always found interesting was that Kelsy Grammer (Fraiser) was the executive producer for it and another "black" show.

That and Girlfriends was always labeled the black version of Sex in the City, but they tackled better and social issues.

At least on Showtime/Cinemax/HBO? we have the Zhane Sex Chronicles.

Cheekie said...

@Journey - I heard about the IMDB thing. I wouldn't put it past 'em. It's a shame when folks don't have anything better to do than knock other folks down. It really speaks volumes as to how intimidated they are of us succeeding.

@Shawn - I forgot to mention Kelsey Grammar being the exec. producer of Girlfriends. He's also holds the same position for the tv show, The Game. Isn't it something how they won't make an effort to promote to their own when it comes to Black shows, but they'll make sure to make money off of ours?

K. Michel said...

I did not like The Game, so I didn't watch it. Girlfriends was a much better show, and I thought it did well... wasn't it 5 seasons or something, Miss Cheekie?

I don't think White people (at least most of them) intentionally skip movies with Black leads, but it's more like ...movies with White leads are their comfort zone.

If it has a Black lead, it better damn well be a comedy if you want White people to see it. I think it's up to the next generation of actors, directors, and screenwriters to make an impact in this department, babe.