Black folks & Movies: Is Stepin Fetchit Dead?

I know that some folks are upset with the Oscars. Denzel had to call a white boy a nigga to get an Oscar. Halle had to bang a white boy to get an Oscar. A rap group had to rap about a pimp to get an Oscar. It’s discouraging but sometimes I wonder if black people are holding artist to a standard that is unattainable considering the realities of the entertainment industry. Let’s look at it from both sides.



Perspective from the black community:

The media is a very powerful tool and does shape perception. Therefore, when the only images of the black community are depicting us as violent, shiftless and possessing nothing but moral deficiencies, it’s hard not to get a little upset with seeing Denzel and Halle, two of the biggest black stars in Hollywood, portraying the characters that won them Oscars. It’s hard not to feel a tinge of pain when watching Three 6 Mafia perform “Hard Out Here for a Pimp” for an audience of white people.

The entertainment has this love-hate relationship with black people where they can’t get enough of our talent and at the same time don’t care enough about us to present the artistry of the black community in its entirety. Black people are well aware of the hypocrisy of the liberal bastion Hollywood professes and their actions. We notice that only a few black actors ever make it to the A-list and the rest are delegated to second-class scripts where their potential is never fully realized. We don’t like it so even when an Oscar is won by a black actor, it is hard to celebrate it because we know the truth and we are left to ask why that role in that movie and not one with a character with redeeming qualities.



Perspective From the Entertainer:

Dreams are a funny thing to follow. Say you’re a starving actor, busting table to get by and waiting for an opportunity. One day your agent calls and has a role in a pilot: Mookie and the Chocolate Factory. The script is full of cliche’s and stereotypes. The gig pays $20,000 for four shows. If a network picks it up, it’ll pay $10,000 per episode.

I really can’t blame the brother for going for it. Sure, it’s not a great role, but it pays and there is an opportunity for exposure. It’s easy to say don’t take it when you’re working a 9 to 5 but folks have to eat. When John Singleton approached Three 6 Mafia to write a song for the movie, I’m sure they were honored and heck, there is money involved.

I think it is fair to criticize Denzel and Halle because they do have options, but other do not have those options so they take the roles they can get with hopes of better opportunity down the road.



The Gist:

It comes down to having more blacks in executive, director and producing positions. It’s going to come down to black people financing more independent films outside the major studio bureaucracy. It’s going to come down to black people supporting films with different themes. We can’t just stick to movies like Madea’s Family Reunion and Menace II Society. We have to support the more artistic films. Can a movie like Sideways or The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind do well if the cast is predominantly black? When the answer is, on average, yes – then we’ll start to see a broader selection of movies.



Because the truth is, Hollywood is like any other business entity. They are looking to make a buck. We can and should hold entertainers to a standard but we have to support that standard with our money. I’m one that loves senseless violence, special effects and will tolerate a weak plot if those two elements are available in abundance. But I appreciate a good musical and a movie with a well written script and exceptional acting. There is no reason to expect anything less simply because the cast is black. Because I know we can do better… If you’ve seen Love Jones or the Inkwell, then you know we can do better as well.

Discussion Starters:

1. Is it fair to hold black entertainers to a different standard than white entertainers?
2. What do you feel is required to get more diversity in the types of roles for black? 3. Is there really a problem or are black people blowing this out of proportion?
4. Should entertainers feel obligated to turn down degrading roles regardless of their financial or career status?

 

26 Responses to Black folks & Movies: Is Stepin Fetchit Dead?

  1. Rashid Muhammad Says:
    1. Nope, but as soon as people get over this whole BS idea of "fairness" we'll do a lot better.

    2. Black people need to make their own stuff and control their own image. At least as much as possible in an open market.

    3. Blowing it out of proportion, as usual.

    4. They should feel obligated to turn them down based on whatever career trajectory they choose to take.

    For me, the real problem is that people are so influenced by the media. Once that chain is broken, everything else can be taken care of. Of course pigs flying would probably happen first, but for some reason it seems a lot more and productive than altering media imagery.

    Bottom Line: If black people alter their street (everyday) image, none of this other stuff will matter.
  2. James Manning Says:
    The fact that the major studios are developing their own independent style studios bode well for black movies. The studios are looking for alternative scripts and I think black people could benefit from that since they are not looking for stereotypical movies.

    I think the money factor is an issue. When a movie like the Inkwell do as well as Madea's Family Reunion, then that will start to make a difference as well.
  3. Id it is Says:
    1. No, it isn't fair; an entertainer is an entertainer, regardless of his race, color...
    2. It will take not just a black director, producer, financier....to get diversity of roles for black actors. What we'd need is a 'bl'ollywood'. How many Asian entertainers do you see in Hollywood? Yet who hasn't heard of 'Bollywood' a booming film industry full of Asian entertainers in Mumbai that is fast achieving global status. Black folks may have to do the same to showcase what they have. That's one sure way of altering stereoptypical perceptions, of providing an authentic portrayal of black men, women, and their reality.
    3. It doesn't make economic sense for a struggling entertainer to do that. However, as you've pointed out in your post, the black entertainers like Denzel and Halle who are in a position to command a price and role ought to take it upon themselves to fructify this dream of a 'bl'ollywood'. They should turn down roles that perpetrate stereotypical representation of the black community.
  4. James Manning Says:
    id it is,

    I agree. bl'ollywood would be a solution. But it would take some people with money and access to distribution channels to pull it off in the US.

    I think it is the reason we are so disappointed with BET. They could do it, but they are casting themselves as the black MTV rather than an avenue to shape the media images of black people and an alternative channel for black talent.
  5. Rashid Muhammad Says:
    Yeah and let's not forget that Bollywood has a built-in market of 1 billion plus. The risk is a little higher amongst the 35 million built-in bl'ollywood patrons.

    Also the cost of making a movie is much lower in India.

    Not trying to hate, just adding a little perspective.
  6. Jaimie Says:
    1. Is it fair to hold black entertainers to a different standard than white entertainers?

    No.

    2. What do you feel is required to get more diversity in the types of roles for black?

    Better written scripts. A break from the norm. More artistic creativity.

    3. Is there really a problem or are black people blowing this out of proportion?

    A problem to some, but maybe not to others. There are a lot of struggling black actors and screenwriters that we will never know. But there are also a lot of white struggling actors and screenwriters who we will never know.
    4. Should entertainers feel obligated to turn down degrading roles regardless of their financial or career status?

    No one should feel "obligated" to do anything they don't want to do. Both "Monster's Ball" and "Training Day" were very different movies and roles for the two actors. They went out on a limb. This is why they won the Oscar. Same as Phillip Seymour Hoffman in "Capote." He went out on a limb.

    I think Halle is a horrible actress anyway-that's why I don't think she should have won-not because she had sex with a white man. If people are still tripping on that, it's kind of ridiculous. Black women are having sex with white men all over the globe. She's beautiful, but there are much better black actresses than she is out there.

    The only other Oscar worthy performances from Denzel would be Glory and Malcolm X. A lot of the movies he makes are kinda crappy (except for when he was with Spike).

    Where's Spike Lee when you need him?
  7. Rashid Muhammad Says:
    Where's Spike Lee when you need him?

    Inarticulately shouting conspiracy theories from the rooftops.
  8. James Manning Says:
    Rashid,

    I was thinking along those same lines. I think they would have to do something like Tri-Star or Dreamworks and produce on a subsidiary basis. I just think it is possible to be totally independent.

    But where they could start is becoming sort of a mining facility for scripts and feeding them to smaller players in the game. Sort of what happened with Antwone Fisher.
  9. woodrow241 Says:
    I was annoyed when Clooney praised the efforts of the academy when he talked about how courageous and forward thinking they were. We know how fake most of em are so it just pisses me off to see people like that act so righteous.
    Excellent post.
  10. James Manning Says:
    Jaimie,

    I don't think it was Halle screwing the white guy or Denzel cussing, it was the lack of acknowledgement for the other performances by black actors - Denzel in Malcolm X and The Hurricane, Angela Bassett in What's Love Got to Do With It, Jurnee Smollett in Eve's Bayou and then there is the lack of alternative roles for black people. So when an Oscar is given for those particular performances, it irked black people.

    No one will complain about a black man playing a butler if there is ample roles to play police officer, president, family lawyer, ceo and that vast range of roles that have been available to to an actor like Harrison Ford. That's the issue.
  11. taylor Says:
    I disagree that Halle played a different role and went out on a limb. Maybe as a main character but she started out in Hollywood playing a crackhead. If she was always the crackhead and then suddenly a Bond Girl, would she be nominated for being a Bond Girl? probably not. I guess you gotta be on top and go down to show you can stretch to them.

    1. Is it fair to hold black entertainers to a different standard than white entertainers?
    As the Academy, no. As people of color, yes. In our lives the people on tv are the role models. Is that fair, maybe not.

    2. What do you feel is required to get more diversity in the types of roles for black?
    It really is just where we are putting our bucks. What is marketed to us is based onwhat we will pay for. People of color will pay to see Big Mommas House but we don't always put our money on the movies that are the kind to recieve Academy Awards Nominations.

    3. Is there really a problem or are black people blowing this out of proportion?
    There really is a problem. Part of it is our community. As a people we have a tendency to let what is portrayed of us on TV be who it is we want to become. Being a teacher is a good job, an important one. If one of our brothers or sisters wants to be one they are often told it's not good enough. Because it won't bring in the Bling Lifestyle. A lot of us have more on our backs than we do in the bank because we're trying to be what we see. So until what we see changes, I don't know if we can all change.

    4. Should entertainers feel obligated to turn down degrading roles regardless of their financial or career status?
    I really don't have an answer for that. I don't know what people's individual situations are. I'd like to see it happen. This way the demand from Actors would be we want quality roles. But comedy has it's place too. Someones always going to need the money/exposure enough to do it. The more important question is who's money is going to come out to see it?
  12. The difference Says:
    The difference between these old images and the silliness we are clamoring to portray today is that we have a role in this crap.

    Old Hollywood gave Black folks no choice, no different than new Hollywood.

    But it is Black sellouts, and the REAL Uncle Toms like Three-Six Mafia (Sorry to pick on them in particular, because they are not alone. They just happen to be representative of this crap at the moment), who are begging to be portrayed this way, and sold this way to the world.

    How can we make excuses for cock-grabbing and shit-talking in front of the entire planet?

    How different is this from Muslims making excuses for radial fanatics?

    Is the world shaking their heads at both forms of idiocy.
  13. Rashid Muhammad Says:
    God I wish our people would get over ourselves. Difference, how is Three 6 Mafia a group of sellouts when they just are on stage being themselves? The irony is that they were the only truly genuine people in a house full of people who are professionally insincere and seemingly pretentious by nature.

    While they may not represent the way that many black people such as yourself want to be represented but to act like they are somehow compromising the integrity of the black race is ridiculous. Three 6 represents a sizable number of black people and have every right to do what they do.
  14. James Manning Says:
    I don't three 6 mafia did anything wrong. in fact, they were excited as hell to have won. and if you really listen to the song and watch the movie, i have to admit, the song is perfect. I think what is missing is the balance. If Common and Talib got the same air time as 50 Cent and Dwele got the same number of spins as R Kelly, things would be cool. Not everyone is going to do the same thing and you wouldn't want art to be steamlined to the point where it is no longer art.

    So the issue comes down to diversity and how do we get it. I'm not a fan of the song, but they wrote it for the movie and it did what it was suppose to do.
  15. Sharon Says:
    Okay, I promised myself I was done with this discussion and I am, so I'll just direct you to Tuesday's post on my blog re: this conversation.

    Since I'm here, two things:

    I whole-heartedly agree with Rashid Muhammad's response to "The Difference".

    Your blog is definitely not something we as a people need to worry will have a negative impact on our collective image...not that I personally worry about things like that ;) but I Love Your Spot!
  16. The Difference Says:
    First, Mr. Rashid Muhammad, don’t get me wrong, they have every “right” to do as they please. But that doesn’t make it good.

    How bout next time black folks make excuses for drug addicts up there getting high if the Academy nominates them? That represents some people in our community that have addiction problems. Isn’t that “real?”

    But now that I think about it, I wonder why NO other people in the world are representing themselves like this?

    Even 50 Cent's Grandmother won't listen to his cock-grabbing mess. He said so during a television appearance.

    And as far as them being "genuine," I don't know anyone who has had to look at the horrible things that pimps do, at least any black person, who celebrates that mess. It's different if it's touched your family.

    I call it trash for the same reason my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and so on would do so.

    And contrary to the opinion of some, THAT'S stayin real. Real is being tied to a 400 year old culture. Not 20 years of crap. Three-Six Mafia was acting no different than Britney Spears. But at least she is real about being a pop star.

    Only true Tom's can even make an excuse for giving up 400 years of history and proud culture. There are fewer and fewer accepted countervailing images of black people in public that show our culture in a decent light. While this award is nice for them personally, it is nothing to celebrate as a people.

    And by the way, the vast majority of these "genuine" crunksters send their kids to rich White private schools so that they can get a proper education, which is something they should REALLY be representing. Because THAT'S what's real.
  17. James Manning Says:
    the difference,

    I think you misinterpret what we are saying. In no way am I celebrating "Hard Out Here for A Pimp" but at the same time the problem is why do we feel that the actions of one represent the whole. Look at the Oscars: A white person came out there with jacked makeup, another dawned a green, whatever that was, and then there was a group that walked on stage with stuffed animals. They in no way represented the entire white race.

    I know for black people it is different because we have so few opportunities in which to display the richness of our culture - but the truth is, like it or not, crunk, rap, pimpin, are just as much a part of our culture as athletics, political activism, church and overcoming.

    What I argue is for an avenue the presents our entire culture and not just the negative. And there will always be negative. I may not like what they presented Sunday night, but at the same time we have to start creating avenues to present the other side. Because currently, there is no incentive in the entertainment industry to do so.
  18. The Difference Says:
    James, I'm not saying hide it.

    All I'm saying is that this mess is not positive, and I have no clue why some of us are making excuses for it.

    Real or not real, it's not good. And I think ALL of us already know this mess happens everyday.

    I'm not saying they should be censored, I'm saying that we shouldn't celebrate trash. NO other people sell their garbage the way we have done in the last 20 - 30 years.

    Why do we have to pretend that we shouldn't demand better for and from our community? That isn't for the benefit of others, but for our own benefit.
  19. Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden Says:
    03 07 06
    James what a wonderful post! You really examined the issue from two realistic perspectives and I always admire a blogger who covers the bases! And I recall Hattie McDaniel laughing when folks critisized her. Back then she made $700/week and if she was a maid in the real world, she would've made like $7 a week (if that)! The irony and silliness ain't lost on me...

    1. Is it fair to hold black entertainers to a different standard than white entertainers?
    We have to HOLD all entertainers to a standard and if we don't agree with their actions, then don't patronize their works! And Blacks are held to a certain standard simply because we are more VISIBLE in Hollywood. The pressures are greater. I don't think fair is the right word to attribute to this...
    2. What do you feel is required to get more diversity in the types of roles for black?
    Economics. Blacks have to stop bitching about who isn't giving them/us what and get it for ourselves. I agree with what some of the previous commenters have said in that regard.
    3. Is there really a problem or are black people blowing this out of proportion?
    There is a problem and has been a problem since the moving picture shows began AND before that on the American stage (I betcha no one brought up this angle;). Blacks are only blowing it out of proportion because we haven't collectively put our resources together to create something truly unique and outside of the mainstream culture. And although Spike Lee has tried, I think Oscar Michaux was even more of a trailblazer. Hey who else is out there aside from him on the directing and producing side of the movies?
    4. Should entertainers feel obligated to turn down degrading roles regardless of their financial or career status?
    Well hell, except Samuel L. Jackson, I haven't seen too many affluent Blacks who have made the A list go back. It could be argued that Halle Berry hadn't completely made it to the A list until the Monster movie. Denzel seems to choose his roles with a lot of care-well he is usally a cop, but he is more consciencious than Halle Berry I think. People can do as they wish, but when it comes to it, I think we all have a responsibility to the public too.

    Some of the public likes crappy movies and if an actor wishes to act in one, they can go ahead. However, I haven't seen too many actors who have made it make a crappy movie. I am probably wrong about this:)Excellent post James:)
  20. Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden Says:
    03 07 06

    And I meant too many A list actors going back, although some make mistakes from time to time:)
  21. NEO, SOC Says:
    1. No. And I agree; blacks need to shell the money like Mel Gibson did. He spent what $35mil? And grossed over $350mil? He appealed with something that would definitely catch the crowd.

    2. A unified effort of blacks to say they won't tolerate this madness anymore. Yet, that won't happen because the black community is nothing like that of 40 years ago. The community now is to weak, fragmented and self-centered to accomplish anything of worth today. Case in point, when any black can call Condi Rice a sellout, puppet or token; then it shows the true tenacity of the black community and their demise. That was the one thing I really was impressed with back in New York. Jews stuck together! Not in the industry but in the community. When one was hurt the whole was hurt. Can't really say that about the black community.

    3. There definitely is a problem and much of it stems from previously mentioned information.

    4. Yes! UPN Monday's is a travesty because it's just more booty-shaken, neck-twisting, 21st Century sambotime. Soul Plane, White Chicks, and many others never should have been made. If Tyler Perry is the black community's last hope for film then we might as well hang up the reels now! But the only way that can turn is a united educated people. It won't happen though!

    Great post, James! This in many ways reminds me much of my latest post on 'Fantasy or Factual'....
  22. Rashid Muhammad Says:
    First of all difference, our culture is a lot longer than 400 years. As a matter of fact, the last 400 years of it are probably the lamest 400 years on record.

    Secondly, there is nothing in the film that "celebrates" pimping. Djay was the most unglamorous pimp I've ever seen. No kid in their right mind could watch Hustle and Flow and walk away wanting to be a pimp. Or is the pimp supposed to have horns and fangs in order to not be "celebrated?"

    Thirdly, the song was from a movie about a pimp who tried to leave the game the only way he knew how, rapping. It's really not much different than Rocky except for the fact that Djay had to rely more on his wit than his brawn. The funny thing is that when he gave in to his aggression, it ended up almost destroying his dream.

    The song has tremendous relevance to the story since it was the song that was on Djay's demo that best represented the idea of him contructively leveraging his illegal behavior in a manner that would allow him to cease doing it. The song represented what Hip Hop has done for a lot of people who have marginal musical talent but a lot of drive. When viewed outside of this frame it might seem like an bunch of ignorant dudes rapping about pimping but there is a singular and tangible human struggle behind it which, in my opinion, is why it was Oscar-worthy. To argue against it as some sort of disconnected work is to not be intellectually honest. There are too many other songs out there where you can do this with integrity to use this one as a punching bag.

    Hip Hop is like boxing in that people in the middle class or higher are much less likely to seriously take it up as a career path. The people who do take it up might not have the type of values that the mainstream of America would like to see, but hell we can say the same thing about The Godfather or The Sopranos. The irony is that middle America will pay good money to see the spectacle of both.
  23. James Manning Says:
    I think it all comes down to what I wrote in the last paragraph.

    Because the truth is, Hollywood is like any other business entity. They are looking to make a buck. We can and should hold entertainers to a standard but we have to support that standard with our money. I’m one that loves senseless violence, special effects and will tolerate a weak plot if those two elements are available in abundance. But I appreciate a good musical and a movie with a well written script and exceptional acting. There is no reason to expect anything less simply because the cast is black. Because I know we can do better… If you’ve seen Love Jones or the Inkwell, then you know we can do better as well.


    At some point we have to set the standard with our money. Fact is, I'm going to purchase Nas' next CD and I'm going to watch Hustle and Flow again. I'm going to purchase Sideways and I'm going to see King Kong and X Men 3.

    Neo, I read that post. I'm going to comment on it.

    Rashid, you and I like your thought process. You are on point.
  24. The difference Says:
    Mr. Rashid Muhammad,

    I couldn’t personally EVER call any portion of the history of Africans in the New World “lame.” Whether or not we agree on a disconnect between Africa and African descendants in the New World is way too far off topic. Perhaps another time.

    As far as the celebration of pimping goes, spend some time with young black children in a classroom and you might think different. It wasn’t until I started volunteering with young black kids (and some poor ones of other shades) that I realized what is going on.

    I used to make all these crazy sociological rationalizations no different than you. I fought with my father all the time about it. He called rap music “horrible” in the 80’s, and I thought he was just some silly dude out of touch. That is until I started seeing how much OUR children really do admire these guys. You can’t beg them to pay attention when their teacher talks. I couldn’t believe it.

    But I do agree with your statement here: “The song represented what Hip Hop has done for a lot of people who have marginal musical talent but a lot of drive.”

    You got that right. This has thrown talent and expertise right out the window. We’re now saying “nothing matters, not even if you have talent, just sell whatever. Even pimping and cock-grabbing.” So much for James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, Sonny Rollins, Thelonius Monk, Quincy Jones and the like. This crap represents the WORST even in rap, the artistry of Hip-Hop is no where to be seen in this. There really is no defense to it.

    “it might seem like an bunch of ignorant dudes rapping about pimping…”

    Come on man, it IS about a bunch of dudes rapping about pimping. And we’re the only people in the world who believe we can somehow make this a positive thing. NO other people in the world embarrass themselves with crap like this, and there are plenty of pimps and drug-addicts of all shades to give us a run for the money. But no other people would disgrace themselves in front of the world with this, and then make excuses for why it’s so “real.”

    And finally, there is no irony that middle-America pays to see this stuff. They pay to see it just as they pay to see the circus.

    I think it’s highly arrogant to believe that any one group represents “real” black people. But that seems to be the message from these clowns. And more importantly, I find it horrible that people take offense to those of us who want our community presented in a beautiful light.

    No other culture in the world mocks people who hate deviants and garbage they way that we do. Why must we pretend that standing proud in front of ourselves and the world isn’t important?

    This reminds me… I need to start volunteering again. Because methods aside, I’m sure most black people want the same thing.
  25. Rashid Muhammad Says:
    When I say that the last 400 years of our history is lame compared to what came before I mean that we haven't necessarily replicated Kush, Egypt, Nubia, or Songhay up in this mug, but you're right, it is way off topic.

    I never said that three 6 mafia represented "real" black people, you said that they were coons and I said that there are plenty of black people that act that way. They may be less socialized and an embarassment to you, but they are actual people nonetheless. Normally these people are chatised for their lack of socializtion but Three 6 Mafia just went out there and did their thing during the performance and the acceptance speech.

    And no THIS is not about a bunch of ignorant dudes rapping. This song is relevant to a film. The bitching and moaning that I'm hearing would be appropriate if we were talking about the Grammys but we are not. There is context attached to this song - the movie - and that context is clearly not glorifying pimping, it is doing the total opposite. It is destroying the myth of the glamorous pimp that was partially created by pre Hip Hop cats like Richard Pryor and Rudy Ray Moore. I conceded that there are plenty of other songs and performances for you to whine over, but this ain't the one. If you're going to fight you need to pick the right battle.

    Whether you respect it as art or not is immaterial because art in and of itself is completely subjective. I've worked enough hours in recording studios and been in the ATL music scene long enough to know that there is way more expertise that goes into it than you give it credit for. But hey, that's immaterial as well.

    I've also done plenty of volunteer work in the straight up hood and yes I see kids idolize rappers that are poor examples. Of course the problem isn't the rappers, it's the fact that they have no tangible role model in their face every day and their single mothers are more likely to sit them down in front of BET (or try to sleep with their kid's mentor) than go over their homework with them. The influence of rappers didn't make my job easier but this BS music that you hear now is a symptom, not the problem itself.

    Cry about hip hop all you want, but if our kids didn't have such weak minds due to broken family structures and generally unproductive norms insofar as raising children go, it wouldn't mean a damn thing.
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