Hollywood’s Never-Ending “Positive Portrayals”
Why would a Black man be complaining about the insertion of fictional Black characters into movies and television programs that are intended to enhance the image of Blacks to the general public? Isn’t this the kind of social engineering that should be applauded?
Well, No, says Erik Rush in his syndicated column, “Are TV dramas pimping Obama propaganda?” Rush claims that he has been, since the 1970s, a careful observer of the “machinations of film and television producers” with respect to the race issue. In fact, he is author of the book, Negrophilia: From Slave Block to Pedestal—America’s Racial Obsession, in which he takes to task almost all the contentious topics surrounding race.
Although he realizes that attempts to intrude more positive depictions of Blacks have prevailed for some time among a coterie of White entertainment executives, Rush claims that something unique is now underway. He believes that much of the goal of today’s Hollywood producers is to “directly influence public opinion as regards President Obama.” Though he accepts the facts of earlier moves towards more sympathetic characterizations, he associates the current trend to the mainstream media’s desire to aggrandize a political ally, namely, the first colored President.
As a self-identified conservative, Rush finds no reason to support a Black man who, according to him, prior to election, clearly suffered from “glaring deficiencies” in terms of experience. Needless to say, he disdains Obama’s politics, and like many Americans, he believes that Obama’s presidency is due only to the fact of his race. He thinks it won’t be long before this inept President is viewed as a “blemish on the legacy of black Americans.”
This is why, according to Rush, Hollywood’s producers of certain television shows strain themselves to partake in “damage control.” In order to counter the negative perceptions of the unskilled Obama, producers work at portraying Blacks in dramatic roles as authority figures in leadership positions. He sees a special effort to intrude this “leadership” theme in the face of Obama’s “plummeting popularity.”
However, to single out Obama in Hollywood’s ongoing fixation on elevating the status of Blacks, if only through the lens of a camera, might be a bit of a reach. In my 2008 post, “Keeping the pressure on Hollywood,” I show how studios and independent producers, as early as 1915, under threat of boycotts by the NAACP and fellow travelers, sought to keep the peace with their Black critics. The entertainment industry’s self-conscious attempts to nullify, through fantasy, the public’s perceptions of Black proclivities and behavior began long before Obama came on the scene. The push to promote that which Rush calls the campaign to “portray blacks in high places as competent leaders” had been on for at least a couple of decades.
White producers did not need the presence of Obama to give us all those brilliant Black scientists, computer geeks, math geniuses, military strategists, and intellectual wizards. And don’t forget those Four-Star Generals, heads of FBI, police commissioners, chiefs of the Pentagon, and several saviors of the world.
In the 1980s, after the NAACP intensified their boycott threats against Hollywood producers, studios stepped up their efforts to comply with the new commands, and even created “diversity casting committees.” The endless pandering to showcase Black characters was about to go into high gear.
The NAACP, exploiting its power as a special interest group, used its muscle in behalf of a cadre of Black actors and technicians, who were pressing for more employment in front of and behind the camera.
As has become the typical pattern with Whites, once the race intimidators showed that they were serious, producers set about outdoing one another to prove just how un-racist they could be. Did the insertion of Black characters in some cases render the story lines foolish? Well, who cares? It’s only make-believe anyway.
And what did all this saturation of Black characters bring about? Why, demands for more, of course. In fact, there is nothing more pathetic than to hear the howling whenever a sitcom neglects to include regular Black characters, as was the case even with the phenomenally successful Seinfeld show, which did not escape criticism for its all-White cast. After all, it was reasoned, wasn’t it more likely that those White Yuppies, who were working and living in New York City, would include people of color among their circle of friends? Ditto for a host of other all-White serials.
And how about those late night Leno/Letterman type shows? How come no Black has ever hosted one of them? Back when Craig Ferguson won his late-night spot, beating out several competing candidates, a disgruntled Black comedian declared it was “time” for a Black man to host such a show. Come on, White man, be fair and move aside!
When director Tim Burton remade Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and maintained the essential spirit of the original film, which included a cast of White children, he was condemned for failing to “diversify” the feature. Where were the colored faces? Burton held his ground and spoke of the “integrity” of the story line, and claimed that sometimes doing the politically correct thing “rings false.”
Erik Rush and I share a general disdain for the monitoring of entertainment for the sake of racial bean counting. However, his gripe appears to center around the political, whereas I am more concerned with a general assumption that Blacks are exonerated from taking responsibility for pooling their own resources and performing that which they demand the White man do for them.
The story goes something like this: The White man damaged the public image of the Black man through negative depictions in all sorts of settings, from books to newspapers and magazines, to films and plays and early radio programs. Hence, the White man owes to the Black man, in perpetuity, the obligation to clean up this damaged image.
One is not supposed to take note of the many decades that the Black man has had to right this wrong, through his own efforts and behavior. And one certainly is not supposed to get all snarky, by suggesting that if the Black man ceased abandoning all those illegitimate babies he sires, maybe the world might begin to develop more positive views of him.
Just who has done the most to tarnish the reputation of Blacks? Of course, the answer does not matter. What does matter is whether Blacks ever hold themselves culpable for reversing that which they find so distasteful. Do Blacks continue the same old “civil rights” approach of “Whitey knocked me down, so Whitey’s got to pick me up?” Or do they finally develop the backbone to put the onus of neglect of duty on themselves?
For Whites, it is a taboo notion to suggest that Blacks should take financial responsibility for the production of more of that entertainment on which they spend so much of their disposable income. In the 1960s, in his book, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, Harold Cruse wrote of “the failure of the black bourgeoisie as a class, to play any social role as patron or sponsor of the arts.” Instead, these “cultural aspirants” make “vocal and specified demands for integration in cultural fields where the Black bourgeoisie has never paid the piper, and therefore can call no tunes.” When it comes to Hollywood, they don’t intend to pay the piper. Why should they?
Although the NAACP scored a significant win in 1969, when it succeeded in pressuring the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) to revoke the license of a television station based on supposed “racial bias in programming,” the race monitors do not always get their way. In 1986, for instance, no amount of campaigning before or howling after the Oscar presentations managed to elicit even one award for the film The Color Purple, in spite of the movie’s 11 nominations. The “snub,” as it was referred to, was condemned for ignoring the call for greater recognition of Black performers and was viewed as a dastardly act of “racism.” Undeterred, and without any display of embarrassment, NAACP directors filed a “letter of protest” with the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. How dare you ignore Blacks?
Of course, it is hard to take seriously an organization that claims to be dedicated to monitoring “offensive and defamatory” Black images in the White media, when it has given positive recognition to some of the most repulsive handiwork of Black performers and musicians.
You see, when Rappers and Hip Hoppers are awash in millions, going on billions, of dollars, and a lot of it lands in the coffers of those “civil rights” crusaders, it’s hard to be too precise over what constitutes “offensive.” If the producers of Amos & Andy could have come up with such generous donations, one wonders if that program would have ever left the air. (It certainly featured more wholesome depictions of Blacks than BET.)
Having intimidated feckless White producers to increase the numbers of Blacks in their productions, the next step for the monitors was a natural one, that is, intrude into the very nature of programming itself. In 1998, the NAACP succeeded in getting a proposed comic serial canceled, which featured the characters of Abraham Lincoln and a White House slave. The show’s premise was deemed unacceptable for its “irreverent” take on slavery.
Chastened producers soon learned their lessons. In 1999, Bob Wright, president of NBC, issued a press release containing this statement:
Working with the NAACP and a coalition of other minority organizations, we have come up with a series of aggressive initiatives to widen the pipeline of diverse talent and raise awareness in our community on these issues.
Don’t think for a minute that so-called conservative Blacks are in disagreement with the NAACP’s use of coercive power to bully cowed Whites into meeting Black demands. This bourgeoisie is as concerned as any liberals to elicit positive media portrayals of their class, and are perfectly at home with Al Sharpton tactics, if necessary, to accomplish this goal. Read any of their websites to see how thrilled they are with every media portrayal that they imagine might improve their chances of appearing more acceptable to White society.
As ever, with this class, they are as ready to racialize any circumstance as their liberal counterparts, who they berate for “keeping Blacks on the plantation” (a favorite, if tiresome, catchphrase). Be they declared liberals or conservatives, if they are Black, the “reinvented” Al Sharpton (in Newsweek‘s parlance) is welcome as long as he’s agitating Whitey for bigger and better places at his table. Conservative Blacks have as much desire to sit at that table as the liberals, as long as it’s at the expense of Whites. Just ask Michael Steele.
Although the drive is on for Black actors and actresses to be substituted in roles written expressly for White characters, indignation is roused when the opposite occurs, as happened in the case of a true story about a Black woman who committed an appalling crime that resulted in the slow, torturous death of a White man. In the film, the role of the Black woman was given to a popular White actress. Expressing anger over this casting, Black actress Victoria Rowell declared, “Unless African-American actors, Hispanic actors, Middle Eastern actors and Asian actors say no more, it’s going to continue.”
But what exactly is going to continue, other than the right of studio owners and producers to use their judgment in developing their private properties? Do Rowell’s words contain the hint that should be taken seriously by her own fraternity of Black actors and others of affluence in and out of show business? That is, if you want more roles and control over story content, become investors in properties of your own creation.
If past behavior is any measure of what to expect from middle and upper class Blacks in the future, we can be fairly certain that such an investor-oriented scenario will never unfold. There will be no such taking of financial risks, as long as the “civil rights” umbrella can be infinitely extended to cover anything the NAACP and Al Sharpton say it covers.