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Does Hollywood discriminate against young black actors?

March 4, 2011 |  3:25 pm

Shortly after the Oscars ended Sunday, Samuel L. Jackson sent an e-mail to a Times reporter wondering why no black men had been chosen to present awards on the film world's biggest stage.

"It's obvious there's not ONE Black male actor in Hollywood that's able to read a teleprompter, or that's 'hip enuf,' for the new academy demographic!" Jackson wrote. "In the Hollywood I saw tonite, I don't exist nor does Denzel, Eddie, Will, Jamie, or even a young comer like Anthony Mackie!"

Jackson may be on to something, at least when it comes to the young comers.

There is still a sizable number of black actors in Hollywood with box-office clout and meaty roles, a point that will be underscored when the NAACP hands out its annual Image Awards in Los Angeles Friday night. Will Smith is the biggest movie star in the world, a title he's held now for several years, and Denzel Washington remains at the peak of his box-office powers.

But most of the prominent male black stars sit on the other side of 40. The best known of the next generation -- say, Derek Luke (36), Chiwetel Eijofor (33), Idris Elba (39) and Mackie (31) -- are not only less influential, they're not nearly as popular in their 30s as the previous crop was at their age. (Washington, for instance, had already won an Oscar and made "Glory," "Malcolm X" and "Philadelphia" before he hit the big 4-0.)

That's not because any of these actors aren't capable of pulling off a "Malcolm X" or a "Philadelphia," of course. It's because they're not given the chance. Mackie has one of the more substantive studio roles for a younger black actor in a while as Matt Damon's guardian angel in this weekend's "The Adjustment Bureau." But it's hardly the role of a lifetime.

"It's frustrating that the movies I want to make I haven't been able to make," Mackie told 24 Frames. "Orlando Bloom was given 15 opportunities after 'Lord of the Rings.' Black men are given no opportunities."

Race in Hollywood is a subject close to Mackie's heart. He's studiously avoided the "Who's Your Caddys" and "Big Momma's Houses" of the film world, going instead to indies such as "The Hurt Locker" and, almost as frequently, to the stage.

"In the  early 1990's, every black actor you know now was starting out and making movies. They were  making more movies under Daddy Bush than we are under Obama, which is ridiculous," Mackie said.

The scarcity of black roles in 2011 is partly a function of fewer movies being made, and certainly fewer serious-minded movies at the studios. When Washington and Smith were coming up, there were routinely chances to make those types of films. (Smith made "Six Degrees of Separation" with MGM when he was 24 and in the middle of shooting a network sitcom.) Now you need to go indie or wait for lightning to strike at a studio.

The growth of the black-comedy niche may also have, paradoxically, resulted in fewer opportunities, as black actors get cordoned off in the land of "Soul Plane."

But while some studio executives will privately say they're simply reacting to the marketplace realities when it comes to casting younger black actors in lead roles of mainstream films, the actors don't buy it. "They say there's not an audience for black stars, but that's because you're not feeding [audiences] them," Mackie said.

Actors can take a long time to develop their talents and establish a relationship with an audience. The dearth of young black actors may be obscured in 2011, with Washington and Smith -- not to mention Don Cheadle, Jamie Foxx, Forest Whitaker and others -- still making movies. But one wonders what type of entertainment world we'll be occupying when these stars are in their 50s and 60s and Hollywood has cultivated almost no one to take their place.

--Steven Zeitchik



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Photo: Anthony Mackie, left, John Slattery and others in "The Adjustment Bureau." Credit: Universal Pictures 

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After reading this article, if people could only be 100% honest with themselves, they would come to one conclusion! The only people discriminating against anybody, are Blacks!!
They're always complaining about something. Why was it okay for the movie, "White Men Can't Jump" to be released? What if a White person came up with a movie titled, "Black Men Can't Read?" Get my point?

Give me a break....who's calling the shots in the NBA? How many white running backs are in the NFL? In SoCal LAUSD has let the black community down, they helped dumb them down. The quality black actors and musicians are passing away and the new NOISE is hip-hop, c-rap, and the NOISE from the Tuners are suppose to impress us? Where are the new Etta James, Louis Armstrong's...you can't tell me the black community doesn't have quality but they aren't nurturing their young....sad.

Marcus the grammar nazi got it wrong. It's not
"I am so sorry to say this, because I realize that most of the generation is not fluent in literature or english."


"I am so sorry to say this, because I realize that most of the generation is not fluent in literature nor english."

The sad thing about this article is that it appears to assume Hollywood has some type of social conscience. Sure ... individual personalities might, but the 'industry' is simply a cash cow and the Oscars are their little mutual patting each other on the back party.

The 'Academy' reflects where the money is. No money in movies with black actors? Then no black actors at the self-congratulatory celebration.

You'd think Samuel Jackson would be better informed ... I'm sure he is and is just grousing for whatever political point he can make.

The idea that Hollywierd reflects 'Culture' with a capital cee, is like contending that McDonald's reflect 'Cuisine' with a capital cee.

There really are not that many good young white actors either. Are you sure that Hollywood just isn't making as many movies as they used to? Seems the British have also taken over making semi-intelligent fare that wins awards and they really don't bean count on the race thing.

The guy on "Community" Danny Glover is funny as heck but really there are no new actors of any race that stand out recently.

"I mean, give me a break.
We have the Image Awards, the BET Awards, the Latin Grammies...
Imagine if we had an official "All White People Awards." People would lose their fricken minds!
We have Spanish language television channels dedicated to Hispanics. We have BET.
Imagine if we had an official "White Only" television channel. It would be called the most evil thing ever.
It's crazy. Most white people I know are nice and I have met very few true racists in my life.
So much of this "discrimination" talk is just paranoia that is used to manipulate the system.
I'm tired of it."

@JON K, How does that make any sense whatsoever? Research a little history of this country and you would know that the United States was dedicated to keeping white people happy. I.E. "Whites only restaurants, movie theatres, bathrooms, water fountains..." the list goes on and on. If other races were consistently honored in the same venues and on the same channels as whites there wouldn't be a need for BET or Image Awards, or even the NAACP for that matter. THINK BEFORE YOU POST PEOPLE!

Hollywood is a place of liberals who run to Haiti and the Sudan and all these African countries to help the poor blacks, but not one white actor/actress will stand up and say, I want Anthony to be in this movie. And they can do it. If there weren't a Robert Rodriguez I doubt there would be Latino-based movies. If there weren't a Tyler Perry there would be no jobs for Black actors/actresses. It will begin to happen when Black actors/actresses start to buy book and play properties and raise money, albeit small amounts, to make the movies. I have to admire Tyler Perry because he has built a studio in Atlanta and casts primarily black actors.
The best work for Black actors is TV. That seems to be the equal playing ground. I hate to say they need to give up on the big screen, but they need to give up on the big screen otherwise they will become depressed trying to break down walls that won't break for them. Go to TV, go to Broadway. Go where you are accepted, because it sure isn't on the big screen.

That is why more black actors go to Atlanta since Atlanta is the mecca for blacks. Look at Tyler Perry. He is faring well in Atlanta, and pretty much he can do as he pleases. If he was in Hollywood, I think his name would go into the abyss....

Why is this matter even news worthy and on the front page. Who the "F" cares. I'd rather read about Charlie Sheen's latest escapade, than an article about why black actors feel that there's always someone and/or something against them. Or road blocking them to attain their personal and professional aspirations. If they feel discriminated against in our present climate; DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT; write a letter to President Obama and ask for his advice. Enuf with perpetuating racial inequities!

Hey hey now...what about the percentage of Latino actors? What are the stats on that. Look at America, what is the larger population, Latinos or Blacks? And don't tell me that Latino's have their own networks...yes they do, but those networks support more than the continental US. Talk about scarcity...it exists for Latinos in every age group, not just under 30. Who runs Hollywood..."Hey," who runs America...Whites, Blacks, and somewhere down the line Latinos... Doesn't shape up with true population percentages does it?

Have you looked around the offices in any major talent agency lately? The plum roles are connected there. Try temping at a lowly assistant desk for a week or two, you'll get a pretty clear idea on how decisions are made.

Jon K.: "Black actors are now disproportionately in film, commercial and television. The African-American population is around 10-11% of the American population, but they make up around 25% or more of the roles."

I'm sorry, but that sounds really questionable. Cite your source of this information, please.

There aren't as many people of color period whether we are talking Black, Hispanic, Asian, or Native American. However, it annoys me when people forget the working actors on TV shows that are not comedies like Shemar Moore of Criminal Minds, Sharif Atkins who has been in numerous roles on various series and who is currently on White Collar with Marsha Thomason. The problem is we just ignore they are there.

What a ridiculous article. Why is Samuel Jackson being given the time of day? Since when did Hollywood (or award shows) had to meet a ‘black quota.’ If that was the case Hollywood is discriminating Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans , one-legged-obese-hairy-middle aged-toothless-crossed eyed-uni-browed women to name a few.

Why do they always make it a ‘black’ issue? They have a black president, isn’t that enough?

Jon K Said:

>>We have the Image Awards, the BET Awards, the Latin Grammies...
>>Imagine if we had an official "All White People Awards." People would lose their fricken minds!
>>Imagine if we had an official "White Only" television channel. It would be called the most evil thing ever.

Apples and oranges. And history gives us the context to discern the difference. The only reason there is a BET, or a NAACP is because they arose during a time of intense racism.

BET arose because when black people would try to get on TV they were told "No". So in order to get on the airwaves, they had to make their own channel, and name it accordingly to let other blacks know they could come "here" and not be discriminated against.

The NAACP exist because blacks were held back; hence the word "ADVANCEMENT" in the name. If blacks were NOT held back, then by definition, there would be no need to "advance".

Don’t you think it be strange to have a NAAWP? I mean, what group or set of laws in the 400+ years history of this nation as held white people back?

So again, the words "black" and "colored" in the names of these organizations is to tell the castaways that they could come over here and be accepted.

Contrast this with organizations with the word "white" in it. As in: "White Aryan Resistance", "White Power", "Whites Only", etc. These organizations want to do the opposite; which is to tell certain people(s) that they are not welcome "here". Again, history as given us enough context to know this!

Look: it didn't have to end up this way; and if you are still bothered by this, speak to your grand parents; ask them why they allowed the evil to perpetrate long enough so that these organizations would be born.

>>It's crazy. Most white people I know are nice and I have met very few true racists in my life.

That's probably true, but we still have to deal with the repercussions of past legal discrimination.

>>So much of this "discrimination" talk is just paranoia that is used to manipulate the system.

Manipulate ... Hmmm ... You mean call people out on their evil and hope they are still human enough to be bothered in their conscience to want to change?

Well, I have news for you people. Racism is alive and well in this society; it never died. In the media, in commercial, in business, jobs, sports, everywhere. The sad thing is that young black people seem to accept it and continue to emulate white folks, rather than find their own identity. Black actors and actresses are no less competent, or talented than white ones, The basic discriminatory attitudes encourage these outcomes, and it will continue, sadly, Obama, or no Obama. In fact I have read stories that claim that Obama's Presidency has created more problems for black men than before. Incredible!

Currently Blacks make up 13% of the US population and Hispanics 15%. That said, why are there so few Hispanic actors... And where are the Asian actors...

Some people are popular and others are not. It is the way of the world and with other races we do not always need the discrimination bit bandied about.

As it is, there are plenty of African Ameican actors on TV, wether it's a commercial, infomercial, movie etc.. Why and who would ask if they are being discriminated against? It's a total joke! You know what they say.. once you go Black, we don't want you back!

For those of you who still watch local TV stations, check out how many commercials and shows do not have a Black person in it.

So let me see if I got this right...unless you specifically select black actors to be presenters and winners of Oscars you're racist and evil? What about the 110 other
nationalities and etnicities on the planet?? Do they count as human beings and "people of color" too? Or is the world divided into just white and black people?? Does there now have to be an honorary "black Oscar winner " ever year now to avoid this criticism? Will be forced into another Hallie/Denzel year even though the movies they starred in were terrible just to relieve Hollywood's white guilt? Will the NAACP just hand out image awards to black people only and yet scream about exclusion elsewhere??

Jon K's estimate of the US black population seems about right. On the other hand, black roles equating 25% is pure dogma. Have you watched TV lately?

All that aside, we live in the most ethnically diverse society in the world. -Just so happens to be the most segregated. So, if you don't go to 'the hood' the world looks just like what Hollywood tells us it should look like. - Predominately white with sprinkles of assimilating Asians, Hispanics and Blacks of a neutral skin tone.

I'd like to express my view on this, without bias.

Steven pointed out accurately fewer movies are being made, as Hollywood shifted it's Pendulum towards the young only the giants stood. Mackie's frustrations are dead on, justified. As America becomes more integrated Hollywood will need to keep pace, and open to talent pool to the best regardless of race. There is an African American actor cast in Thor (a fantasy) whom has met scorn from the community simply because he's black. This is ridiculous. Cast the best actor for the role, unless it's ethnically specific ON THE SCRIPT.

Will Smith being the most powerful box office draw in the world means nothing if implementing people whom are talented into positions lurks not in his interest. He's got a production company, his children will have fruitful careers, the power mongers turn their cheek on audiences because they cater to their demographic, and intelligent storytelling is becoming more and more scarce.

Overlook race. Go make the movies. And take no never for an answer.

Okay, I'm white and I was asking myself the same question during the Academy Awards. Black actors were not represented hardly at all. I also have to be honest and ask why there are not more movies that appeal to a broader cross section of the movie going public. Simply making Big Momma's House type movies is not going to do that.

I did however see one movie last year that was entertaining and had a good cross section of actors and appealed to a broader audience and that was Takers.

Takers with black and white actors had black writers and producers. Someone should take a look at Sony Screen Gems. No, Takers was not an Academy Awards type movie but it is a step in the right direction if you want entertaining films with good production value that appeal to a wider audience.

This 42nd NAACP Image Awards show had hollywood newcomer Deitrick Haddon setting the fashion standard – why – Dawn Haynes.
Dawn Haynes, CEO of D to D Designs takes Gospel crossover artist Deitrick Haddon to the next level of style. Deitrick Haddon, whose chart topping album “Church on the Moon” is taking his career to the moon. Haddon’s camp called in A-List Designer/S­tylist Dawn Haynes to give him a trendsetti­ng look as he performs at the 42 NAACP Image Awards. Haynes and her agency has created styles for A-list clients for Award shows, Award Winning Videos, Magazine and Musical Tours.
As a Celebrity Designer/S­tylist Dawn has personally provided her fashion sensibilit­ies for Halle Berry, Usher, Jamie Foxx and Eddie Murphy, Mary J. Blige, Ciara, Naomi Campbell, Jay-Z, Lauryn Hill, Samuel L. Jackson, Ludacris, Queen Latifah, Quincy Jones, Patti LaBelle, Brandi and Eve, Vanessa L. Williams

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