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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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I'm pissed off because there aren't enough white presenters at the NAACP or BET awards shows.
In fact I don't recall one white person winning an award at any of those venues, where as several blacks have won awards at the 'white" awards shows.
As a side note, Sam, if you're looking for a black guy who can read a tele-prompter, why not Mr. Obama?
He's never leaves home without one.
Or does half-black not count?

Not only were there no African American men presenters, there did not seem to be any African Americans men or women in the audience. Has Hollywood finally been exposed for what it is?

For about the tenth time yesterday, I watched Black Dynamite starring Michael Jai White. Michael produced this film and it was fantastic. I wish more black actors would take his initiative and make their own movies. We can be extremely entertaining. We are a brilliant bunch.

I personally feel that the reason Rap music is still so popular is because they took their creativity to the people and let the public seek them out. I gave yet to hear any of them complain about not getting acclaim. Our actors, directors,writers and so forth need to get out there with Tyler Perry and Michael Jai White. Then let the masses come to them. We should not be crying about not being included in this years Academy Awards. We saw how sorry they were without us.

For what it's worth, I recall seeing Morgan Freeman in the opening sequence of the Oscars, and Halle Berry appeared on stage to pay tribute to Lena Horne, who was singled out from among all of the entertainment industry people who passed away last year for a particular tribute.

In a truly color-blind society individuals should be chosen on merit and without regard to superficials like skin color. Unfortunately this society has capitalized on such superficialities for profit and in leveraging individuals into positions they may be less qualified for. The result is a tendency towards mediocrity and endless squabbling (witness Samuel L. Jackson) whose unintended consequence is race-based discrimination.

Why is this buried in the Entertainment section rather than being given prominent space on page one and above the fold at that? Sure there are other newsworthy stories to compete (Libya, Wisconsin, war, unemployment, etc.) but they all shrink into insignificance when contrasted to this outrage. I call for immediate federal law enforcement intervention (Mr. Holder are you listening? It's "your people" after all), substantial fiscal disincentives via the tax code for discriminators, and a multi-billion fund to train, employ and just generally support all African American actors or would be actors (think of it as "Pigford" for Hollywood). This travesty must not stand! Do it for the children!

It would nice if we find out that, many were asked, but they busy working! Besides, I only listen to my Whoopie when it comes to subjects like this. She's always the voice of reason, logic, wisdom and comman sense!

This article misses cause and effect.
The reason the actors can't get roles is because the actual living black people in the USA haven't found any new roles in life beyond the cliched ones.
In the 50' and 60's there was much promise to be found in the slowly integrating and educating populace of blacks. They for some reason, did a U-turn and became caracatures of the cliches and now no reasonable person can see them in roles on screen that depart too far from what we experience in real life.
Seems to me Hollywood has bent over backwards to cram black actors in to roles that defy credibility. Even we blacks can't take seriously what we see up there sometimes.

This is a good article. It's no surprise to see that racism still exist in Hollywood, that isn't Groundbreaking news. Racism exist in every industry; Film, Fashion, Porn, etc. Moving on, Anthony Mackie is one of my Favorite Favorite Actors. Being from New Orleans myself, I know how well respected he is here. A former NOCCA student who still gives back to the city. He's very loved here in New Orleans. And he's a Genius actor. If you're looking for some of his Best work I say go with "Brother to Brother" & "Night Catches Us". He's going to be huge. And not because he's Black, but because he's mastered the craft and beautiful art of Acting. (I've met him Twice at the New Orleans Film Festival and he's even more beautiful and sexy in person).

As long as Hollywood is controlled by white men, the roles will go to white males regardless of how talented they are. Minorities, not just "African Americans, will continue to underrepresented. Instead of complaining, do what Tyler Perry is doing--produce your own movies and put minorities in them. It's a shame that someone like Matt Damon, who has not had a hit in over two years, can continue to make movies that are panned by the media and don't make money at the box office. However, minorities can not blackmail anyone into letting them star in a movie. Unfortunately, the recession brought the racism in a lot of folks, including Hollywood. They look out for their own kind and when things get tough, they take care of their own first.

Jon K.

Stop being ignorant.

We have BET and the Latin Awards and all the other race-specific award shows and broadcasts because if we didn't, our artists wouldn't receive the exposure nor the kudos they deserve.

Oscar and Globes 2011 -- there's your whites only awards show.

And where did you get your stats? Even if they are TRUE o_O -- look at how we're represented on TV, in film, and in these commercials? Eating Big Macs, dancing around, telling jokes...the world is only able to see shells of who we really are.

I personally feel American cinema should reflect America. It's not all white, it's not all black, it's not all hispanic -- it's a melting pot. No one should have to be typcasted.

Cinema is about storytelling...what does storytelling have to do with race?

Cinema has been on the decline for years now...it's unfortunate.

White people are so quick to take offense to minorities wanting a piece of --- anything: jobs, schooling... like they don't own the world.

You have to ask "Are you more concerned with the quantity or quality of the work being offered?" So long as Tyler Perry is making movies, there'll be lots of roles for young Black actors. Unfortunately, those may wind up being the only movies you see those young Black actors in.

Agreed, but not even a mention of black FEMALE actors? I know we're considered a few rungs lower, but it IS International Womens Day this month (8/3)! It's an even bigger problem when our brothers don't even mention we exist when they get the platform!

To be honest, I think that there are many inequalities in this world, change happens but separating ourselves off into racial categories is not the way to do it- that's compounding the problem of powerlessness. Then you end up with Momma's Big House (nothing wrong with that if there are other alternatives) and nothing else! We have to write, fund and distribute some great indie films- there is the talent and will to do it. As Will Smith is the biggest BO star, maybe he can support it like Forrest Whittaker does? Great films break thorough whoever is in the lead- take, 'Precious' for example!

When White Hollywood American gave enough money to some Blacks that had big mouths talented or not.

they felt they were done, Cause the rest of y'all don;t matter and those with the cash aren't speaking up anymore.

Still picking Cotton just in another form

@ Posted by: Jon K. | 03/04/2011 at 04:42 PM
Are you kidding me!? You only recognize actors of color by referring to roles as "criminals"? ACTUALLY, Blacks are disproportionately incarcerated in America and yet we make up "10-11% of the American Population". The problem in Hollywood (film, tv, commercials) is that art definitely imitates life. Blacks are "given" roles that "DISPROPORTIONATELY" represent who we are as a people. We are more than rap artists. We are more than criminals. We are more than servants. We are more than punchlines and gangsters. PUH-LEASE!! Don't be politically correct or incorrect at all. Be HONEST. Be TRUTHFUL. You can't do that if you [Hollywood and mainstream media] continue to misrepresent people with propaganda and ill-advised bull$#@*!

I am saddened by some of the comments I am reading here. First I am a black actress and screenplay writer and this article is on the mark. Those of you claimimg that 25% percent of the movies are Black or white acttors are left to playing stock roles. Why didn't you name some these exstensive lists of movies? Can any one of you name me ten movies where A black actor or actress was the star? I dare you? Can anyone do it? And I'm not talking Madea goes to jail or something like that,I'm talking serious films, Can any one of you?Because if you can, but, I know you can't because I can't (I'm in the industry and it's my job to know.) then and only than you can make such comments. You are actually prime examples of why we need to show more divirsity in films and truely reflect our society.The pure ignorance that is rampant in our society is deplorable at this stage in human evolution.When will we get to the point when we won't even need to have this conversation. When will we not see a white man or woman or black man or woman but simply a man or woman.That is why I dedicate myself to writing scripts that are multicutural and with strong female characters in mind.Maybe one day I can simply write.One can only hope.

BTW all of the actors of other races who are saying why is Samuel Jackson only talking about Black actors. Because he's black. Get up and speak for yourselves too. He is opening the door for you too. Take the hint and start the conversation yourselves. I agree with you.There are even less Asian actors and Latin actors or sorely underrepresented when they are now the biggest "minority" group.Then Latinos take the lead. Get up. Blacks have been fighting the fight here in the good ole' USA we could definitely use the help and most certianly won't mind if you want to take up the banner. Because the fight for us has been over 400 years. 'bout time someone give us a hand with making America truely stand for what it's constitution claims it to stand for. Let's keep it real.

Let me begin by saying this, this article was in reference to a letter specifically about the underrepresentation of African American male presenters at the Academy Awards. It further discussed the underrepresetation of African Americans as a whole in Hollywood. I agree that yes, all people of color are discriminated against in Hollywood, but do not attack black people because we actually spoke up about it. Honestly, do we think the representation of African Americans in the music and sports industry should bandage the lack of representation in films? That's ridiculous! You're basically saying that we should be happy to be represented anywhere. African Americans should shut up because we have a black president. The amount of bigotry in this world today is sickening. America was built on the backs and by the hands of my ancestors, who were not immigrants or had to flee to this country, but were brought here UNWILLINGLY. We shouldn't have to beg for roles in substantial films and we shouldn't have to recycle the same actors for Hollywood blockbusters. I'd like to see some new black faces on screen. I would like to be introduced to the next Will Smith, but he has yet to be given an opportunity. Black films that aren't stereotypical and best represent the culture in an intellectual way have yet to be greenlit or even financed. I appreciate this article, Samuel Jackson and Anthony Mackie for making a voice for black Hollywood. It's time for a cinematic revolution.

the comments section of this article is proof positive for why it's impossible to have an intelligent and meaningful conversation about race and racism in this country...the level of ignorance is baffling.
whether or not you're tired of hearing about it, bias and racism do still exist in this country. (and i'm equally tired of white people saying "if we had the all-white awards there would be an uproar"...guess what - you just had the all-white awards and it was called the Oscars.) no more can you pretend they don't exist than you can attmept to edit the N-word out of Tom Sawyer to create your own little revisionist history where white people wouldn't dare say such a thing.
wake up people or we'll never advance beyond this very conversation nor experience a culture where a person's intelligence and abilities aren't presumed based on the color of their skin.

A story like this only brings out the white racists. Look everyone here they come with their typical non-sense about reverse discrimination and how blacks needs to stop killing each other etc. etc.

You can keep your hollywood, keep it white as you want to. It matters very little when this country continues to be flushed down the toilet by ignorant tea bagging, morons who would rather defend the right of corporations than the right for their kids to get a decent education.

Public Enemy made the song "Burn Hollywood Burn" 20 years ago and nothings changed.

This is Ludicris (ludicrous-pardon the pun). There are the BET awards and the NAACP image awards every year, not to mention the Latino awards. I think minorities in Hollywood get numerous chances for the spotlight; it's not our fault if they don't win an award. Yes, they could have been given the chance to present one, but I'm sure the selectors were not thinking of race when they chose the presenters. "Well, let's have -insert caucasian actor here- instead of -insert african american or other minority actor here- because they're white. I don't think so.
If we were to have a quota of awards that must be given to minorites, that would be reverse discrimination because there are many caucasian actors who might have worked harder or been more qualified for those awards. They need to stop their whining for things that happened over a hundred years ago. Grow up. Why are there no Caucasian awards? I think we should have a strictly white awards ceremony. But if we did that, we would be called racist. The minorities do it, and it's called pride. Double standards. I'm going to propose the Cracker awards, for I'm proud to be a white individual!

P.S. Orlando Bloom got 15 other offers after Lord of the Rings because of the success of the trilogy and his performance, not because of his skin color. Ignorance runs rampant!

Lady Godiva, unfortunately it's running rampant in your own little head. I can't even be bothered to address the specifics of your ignorant rant.

Very important issue/topic! Great to have this dialogue! Is affirmative action necessary in Hollywood?

Should black actors just stay away from the oscars all together and maybe establish a black awards program.

Well, I'm seeing plenty more shows with Black male lead actors. Maybe not necessarily on the Big Screen, but definitely on cable and network TV (Breakout Kings, Lights Out). What I notice is that Black men are never cast in decent, exciting, interesting, or loving roles with Black women. Black women are always replaced by whites, latina, or asian females - or, more typically, Black women are not cast at all, totally invisible. Unless it's to make fun of us, degrade and stereotype us or show us as miserable.

So I don't know what Black men are complaining about. I think Samuel Jackson and other Black men whining about the lack of new roles for a newer generation of Black actors is hogwash, when they can't open their mouths and request that Black women be included in decent roles as well.

In fact, consider Black male actors of this new generation to be the biggest bunch of hypocrites on this side of history - they will trample and step all over a Black woman actress just to make money and get their name out.

I like Samuel Jackson, but I have no sympathy for people who believe that being Black in the media means Black men only. Not after all what Black men AND Black women had to go through equally to get any recognition and representatives in TV and films.

Not only that Hollyweird is racist in general - even many "Reality" shows have eliminated Black male/Black female couples or Black women in interracial relationships, and only want to promote Black men in interracial, and never with Black women.

So Black men, sorry, I don't think you have that much sympathy from Black women anymore. You teamed up with the historically racist entertainment industry and threw us under the bus a long time ago (i.e. we won't even talk about the Hip Hop industry!)

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