Movies, Pop Culture

Diversity doesn’t actually exist in Hollywood

We witness fictional brown bodies have bleach thrown at them when they move from the pages of books to a screen.

Hollywood films have started to get a bit more diverse, at least this is what I hear when I go to the movies, listen to pop culture podcasts, overhear discussions about the new Annie movie, and listen to conversations about shows like “How to Get Away with Murder”, “Scandal”, and “The Mindy Project”.

We often have our truths and stories screened through white filters. We see this in the podcast “Serial” where Sarah Koenig is the white bridge between Maryland’s Muslim communities to what seems to be the presumed default white audience. We listen to her journey in one particular episode working through her disbelief at “anti-Muslim” bias. As a Muslim who has been profiled and “randomly selected,” I had to chuckle and contemplate what audience this was intended for because although “Serial “has a well documented and invested Muslim following, it seems the podcast caters to a group where Muslims are a detached and foreign notion, almost like a rare endangered species represented by the “calf eyed” (yeah a white lady saying a brown man has cow like eyes is cool) Adnan. Perhaps “Serial” was an experiment about how we portray people of color, specifically Muslim men.

[bctt tweet=”We often have our truths and stories screened through white filters. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

Moving forward, on this Muslim male stereotype that I lament on often, there’s something more violent than listening to Koenig’s Khaleesi-like self-discovery of Adnan being a nice Muslim dude, normal and stuff, not those freaky guys ya know? He’s not just another Mohammed; he’s Adnan, normalized by way of playing football, smoking marijuana and having pre-marital sex. No real interrogation of what defines “normal” and which bodies “leverage” normal seems to be teased out. We witness Adnan often distanced from his Muslimness – “moderate Muslim”, like a moderately spicy chicken wing, rationalized for an audience that speaks in this dialect rooted in Islamophobia.

[bctt tweet=” He’s not just another Mohammed; he’s Adnan, normalized by way of playing football.” username=”wearethetempest”]

This grazing of xenophobia in a concoction with ignorance, arrogance and racism are not remote to retellings of stories of Muslim men.

We witness fictional brown bodies have bleach thrown at them when they move from the pages of books to a screen. We watched Katniss move from ethnic ambiguity, olive skin, brown hair, and transform to white, Jennifer Lawrence because dyeing hair is easier than relevant casting it seems. This is regurgitated with the casting of Shailene Woodley in Divergent. Albeit both films are touted as feminist, with strong female leads, I hazard to identify work that partakes in such racebending as feminist.

Subsequently this default whitewashing can perhaps explain the outrage on social media unfolded when Rue in the “Hunger Games” was played by a black actress, written within pages as black. As a Muslim, I have stopped holding my breath; the implicit bleaching of our fictional bodies and detesting of racialized casting no longer raises my eyebrows. With fiction, erasure seems to be synonymous with creative license so I let it rest.

[bctt tweet=”What I do take issue with is factual historical representation and submerging it in bleach.” username=”wearethetempest”]

What I do take issue with is factual historical representation and submerging it in bleach. This manifests itself in depictions of white Jesus, when we know Jesus to be a tanned Middle Eastern man. After years of white Jesus haunting me, I find myself now letting any slivers of hope evaporate as Ridley Scott, Director of “Exodus: Gods of Kings”, said:

“I can’t mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such. I’m just not going to get it financed. So the question doesn’t even come up.”

Perhaps I should commend Ridley on his blunt honesty. What I find deplorable is the Mohammad name drop and the presumption that audiences don’t care for authenticity.  As a connoisseur of movies, it is a double edged sword dripping of condescending racism that Scott thought this rash sweeping statement justified skewed casting.  Tons of Becky so-and-so from middle of nowhere America such-and-such have become famous from a compelling performance on screen, being cast on raw talent with no name value. Ridley Scott’s abrasiveness sheds light on a Hollywood where Sony Pictures co-chairman Amy Pascal has a back and forth with producer Scott Rudin laced with racial insensitivity about President Barack Obama.

[bctt tweet=”This is the part where we can all stop holding our breath.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Ironically, the movie has faced some opposition to be screened internationally. This is due to historical inaccuracies, found in Scott’s adaptation of The Old Testament and personification of God. To me a blaring historical inaccuracy is casting Christian Bale as Moses, but I digress. Podcaster and youtuber Kid Fury of The Read inspired the hashtag #NotMyMoses and a rant about the inaccurate casting; his sentiments, I can wholeheartedly support.

Call me cynical, but maybe in 2040 when people of color collectively will make a majority, I still hazard to guess that shades of brown and black will not proportionally be featured in timepiece movies.

If historically accurate casting doesn’t even bother Hollywood producers, filmmakers and other key players, if their own racism and microaggressions are tossed casually in emails, I don’t necessarily foresee a dignified future for racialized embodiment in Hollywood without being featured as a punch line or sidekick, poverty porn or some random independent crowd funded film. This is the part where we can all stop holding our breath.