I often hear people say, “The black guy in horror movies always dies first!”
But, it’s not only the black guy and it’s not just the horror movies. African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics, as well as other minorities are rarely chosen as the lead roles in movies, plays and other forms of entertainment. Even cartoons and animated films are white-dominated.
But even if non-whites were chosen for top roles, the whites would usually still be the last ones to die or get hurt in the movie plot.
An exception is Annie in theaters now starring Quvenzhane Wallis and Jamie Foxx in the lead roles, but receiving poor reviews for the remake of the Broadway show.
A 2012 study from University of Southern California’s Annenberg School found that in the 100 top-grossing films of 2012, only 10.8 percent of the largest speaking roles were assigned to Black characters. Only 4 percent of those larger roles were Hispanic and 5 percent were Asian. Three quarters or more than 76 percent of all the roles were to white actors.
You’d probably think it’s because people of color are underrepresented in Hollywood, and that most directors are white and whites wrote the scripts. That is true.
A UCLA study out earlier this year showed that only 10.5 percent of all lead roles in movies from 2011 were non-white actors. Nearly 88 percent of the directors of theatrical films in 2011 were white. And the writers on those movies were 92.4 percent white, with only 7.6 percent of the writers non-white.
But aside from the under-representation, stereotypes, segregation and other reasons are also parts of the missing equation.
How many times have you seen a movie where the Asians are not nerds or doing kung fu? How many times are black characters there only for comedy relief? Or Hispanic actors as maids and waiters?
Not often and if it were to happen, that would be abnormal and interesting to see.
There is also the difficulty when the film protagonist is not supposed to be white, but cast as white. Jake Gyllenhaal in The Prince of Persia, Benedict Cumberbatch in Star Trek: Into the Darkness and Johnny Depp in The Lone Ranger are just a few examples. The all-white cast of Exodus, has also been widely criticized.
Many people react negatively when they see a character who’s not expected to be black, like Rue in The Hunger Games. If you had read the book, you would have known. And it’s not surprising because we’re so used to having the important characters as white.
The controversy with Sony Entertainment and The Interview, not withstanding, millions are expected to head to movie theatres this holiday season.
So what does it mean to sit in the movie theater or on your laptop watching new movies over and over and never seeing yourself reflected in the cast?
It means as a non-white you do not have the expectation of your story being told. You will sit through hours of stories starring the dramas, fictions, fantasies and realities of people who are not African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American or of mixed races. They are most often white.
We need to tell new stories. We need to see new actors who look, sound and act like the real America. Racism is not just a concept. It is as staring down at us from the big and small screens.