Prejudice and racism in Hollywood has always existed, because you only have to watch the Oscars night to see a whole bunch of white males giving each other awards and patting themselves on the back for something or other they did, and usually it is an exaggeration of something mundane and miniscule. Nevertheless, I knew this a long time ago in the 80s when I was a teenager watching telly. I believe there should be an Oscar for the director most involved in prejudice and discrimination. There would be many winners for that category for one thing. On the other hand, an Oscar award for totally misrepresenting a race, religion, and culture of a nation, would be more entertaining because there are many big names that would do it if they thought they could make a buck or two. After all, 500 million dollars in the bank is just not enough these days.
Back when I was young I used to watch all the rubbish Hollywood came out with, but I watched it with some incredulity, and today I make it a point never to watch a film where a black person, or a person of any colour, is portrayed in a negative light. For one thing, such stereotypical films are just not imaginative and anyone with some intelligence can figure out the plot well in advance. However if everyone avoids such films, then eventually these highly paid directors and film companies will be forced to make better and accurate films. Until then, I usually wait for the DVD to become available at my local pound store!
Factual accuracy is extremely important in good science fiction because it makes some elements believable. A good writer does not blatantly misrepresent something that is well known and established, however bad science fiction grossly misrepresents things. I suppose it all boils down to morality. Would you be happy misrepresenting a section of the population if it meant you could make a few million dollars at the box office? During the Second World War, Hitler misrepresented a large section of the population, for personal gain…
If you are spending a few millions to make a film, then you should take at least five minutes to see if the facts are correct. Of course, if you have made a name for yourself in the film industry, and after your apotheosis, people automatically think that everything you do smells of roses when in actuality it is manure.
I seem to remember watching Tarzan in my youth, and thinking how factually incorrect it was, because anyone brought up outside Europe would be able to spot how skewed the European view of the African was. It portrayed all Africans as savage cannibals, involved in ritual human sacrifices, and “black magic”, whilst the white man hunted them down one by one. The Starsky and Hutch program, which was usually after Tarzan, drew on same parallels, because it was a modern version consisting of two white men chasing down African Americans who were involved in illegal activities.
I also seem to remember Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which hit the cinema theatres in 1984. It was one of the worst films to come out of Hollywood because it was racist, misrepresented a whole race of people, and simultaneously, grossly insulted their religion. I remember a couple of white youths come up to me in the school playground to reaffirm their belief that I ate monkey brains, because they did not have the senses to distinguish between fact and fiction. Being quick witted, my answer was yes, but only on Fridays… Not only did I munch curry, but now I also had a side dish of monkey brains, and a glass of human blood to wash it down with! Still, it was far better than what you could have in some of the fast food chain stores in America! I had to put up with this nonsense for a whole year, which was not helpful in the least.
The usefulness of this film was that it gave a huge insight into how the average white American male perceives the colour black. In the European mind, in a world where a black haired brown-eyed messiah became blond haired and blue eyed, it would be unthinkable to even associate the colour black with god, power, or creation. It is a unique and singular European view to always see and associate black with negative, and it is deeply rooted within language, culture, and psyche. In contrast, the Eastern mind perceives this same colour as a positive force. The black goddess “Kali” is a benevolent god representing a positive force for good. The Eastern mindset associates strength, power, beauty, as well as the creation of the universe, with black. However, what we see in this film is a prejudiced European view, and specifically, an American’s view of black, portraying the goddess as malevolent requiring human sacrifices, cannibalism, blood drinking, and voodoo. Those that are intelligent, who know better, usually walk out of the theatre when they see this type of nonsense; however, I believe the buck stops with you when you stop watching these nonsensical Hollywood films.
One of the reasons why we saw such stereotypical productions is because in America, writing and producing of mainstream television shows and Hollywood films were white only jobs. This is not because there were no talented coloured people around; it was simply a closed-door policy for non-whites, and those whites that made it to the top were happy to pull the ladder up so no one else could make it, especially not a person of colour.
The first time I started noticing non-white names was in the credits of Star Trek with Naren Shankar, a person of Indian (Asian) origin being the Executive Producer, which is probably a first in history, and Michael Okuda. However, it would have been to the credit of Gene Roddenberry who always opened the doors and broke stereotypes. Today, we also see other names such as Sunil Nayar who is one of the finest writers and producers of crime drama involved in CSI Miami. Consequently, we start seeing intelligent programs and shows from a different perspective, which is refreshing.
Our mortality is one sure reason why change always occurs. If you were a film producer at the top of your career, then how would you like others to remember you? Would you like others to see you as a person of light who opened doors or someone who closed them?