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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 totally agree with what Mackie is saying about the state of Hollywood. I am one of those young actors myself. I am a freshmen theatre major at Morgan State University whose been apart of numreable productions. Like a million other young actors I aspire to be standing on stage accepting or presenting an Oscar one day. This goal will be more difficult now for me to achieve then in past years because of the lack of roles available. During this day and age one would think that it would be easier to find more prestigious roles but it isn't. The constant over looking of minortiy actors in commanding roles is doing nothing but giving limited vision to the audiences of 21st century silver screen.

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Interesting article. I for one am happy that someone noticed and decided to call it to someones attention. As an African American I find it difficult to watch television-cable. I truly do not identify with many of these actors or actresses because when movies are made they leave minorities out of them as if we did not exist at all in many era's of the story or just don't address the topic that we were part of society as well. I am watching Mildred Pierce, for instance, this a very good story but, even in the restaurant scenes there are no minorities. Why? sure slavery existed during some of these era's. But, there aren't even scene's for maids or butler's. Hollywood only cares when someone starts a campaign for change. Never mind that the majority is tired of watching those same faces that only a few people may not even identify with.

Let us just accept the facts.

Out of the thousands of young black actors that audition for films each year, a negligible few are chosen and almost never in a leading role or support role. In the past year, Hollywood has brought in more *new* *blonde* white actors than ever before i.e Zuckerpunch. In every 3 films, there may be a 70% chance that a blonde woman or man will be selected for a leading role (we are excluding films set pre 1970's). These facts are cause for concern for any normal thinking and sane, non-racist individual. Espcially when we consider that many of these films haven't had a very good success rate. So why do it? Having a black lead role tends to increase rather than decrease the success rate. We have old films like Lethal Weapon - we know that many of these films just wouldn't be the same without black actors. They add a certain attitude to a film. A depth. A reality.

The racists claims everything is fine.
The racists are bigots.

For the foolish few who think this article should not have been written, you need to get your heads checked out. This is all going to come out. And when it does, Hollywood will shrug, look at the excuse's pamphlets and say, perhaps blondes are being selected because they are more attractive on screen. That's why they aren't addressing the problem. Because they have a great excuse! Isn't it great! Lets chuck in a evolutionary viewpoint shall we? But hey, Hollywood, black actors can act and we can see some of the biggest box hits from black actors, so why aren't you using them?

Black actors are attractive too Hollywood, I'm sure many of them wouldn't go to acting if they weren't. Are people really so gullible, to say that maybe they aren't talented enough? Look at the facts. They are called "actors" for a reason. They were taught how to act. They learnt how to act. Especially in this day and age, it is important to reflect a co-operation between the races. Anyone but a bigot would understand that something is clearly wrong with Hollywood. When one struggles to think of any new young black actors in the past five years, it is cause for concern.

Hollywood and on television, we are reusing the same black actors over and over again and bring ing in no new ones. Yesterday I watched Waterloo Road where it had one black actor in. I turned over the channel to Waking the Dead, and it had the very same black actor in another support role. It is so rare seeing a black actor that I often point it out.

If Hollywood could be taken to court for racism, it would be libel for some serious damages. We want to see colour on our screens. Not white. Colour. We want some colour. No more excuses. We've had all sorts of jokes made like, Why don't we see more deaf people on our screens etc etc. Be serious and grow up. Black people are already a minority, they don't need more discrimination simply because they've developed features to protect themselves against the harshest environments on earth.

Do you understand?
Am I not making myself clear?
Do you understand?
Can you grasp that?

We want to see colour.

This is absolutely ridiculous. As mentioned below, A LOT of people are left out of the academy awards! Black people always have this chip on their shoulder! Quit thinking the world is out to get you- we are not! What is disappointing is how every little instance- you over react. I personally think the black guy in the Adjustment Bureau (pictured above) was the angelic character of the movie with the biggest heart! What does that tell you! Also, what YOUNG black actors were to present this year??

I feel very saddened after reading this article. I don't think that we realize how much of an issue this is until the actors themselves speak out about the discrimination that goes on. It just makes me sick to think that in this day and age this bull crap is still an issue, and according to Anthony Mackie, is just gonna be getting worse as the years go by.

I was provoked to write a comment, not after the article, but after I read some comments afterwards. Rockenstein put it well, when he said:
"We cannot discriminate agianst black people because they have developed features which enable them to survive in the most hostive envoronments on planet earth". People need to grow up and have a bit more respect towards each others races. I respect "Negroids" and "Mongloids", I expect, that after years of fighting and that includes the Civil War, we would have come to respect and co-operate with one another.

Now, the fact is, there is something going wrong in the process between new balck actors graduating in acting schools, and actually getting in to roles in film, in Hollywood. This is the problem. Clearly, they are being rejected. Now we can consider reasons for this. But ultimatly, there is little excuse. We know that they can act. Or perhaps someone will tell me that suddenly, black people cannot act any longer. Don't make me laugh.

The issue may well be racism.

To combat this is simple. 13% of our population is black. It is without excuse that any film set between the 1960s - present day - future, should have no black people in, or even be deficient in this area. Already black people do not have a place in films that are say, set in the 1930s and prior to that. This is understandable because it reflects the historical racial setting for the time. The fact is, there's really no excuse not to have black people in all "other than" films. 13% is a big chunk of our population. We can't just have them disappear from view in film. 5 people are mentioned in this article. Are you telling me, those 5 black actors which feel like they've been around forever, are holding the fort and representingthe millions of black people that exist in the U.S.A and, the millions that exist all over the world? That really is ridiculous.

If Hollywood doesn't want to act responsibly, and can't adjust itself to represent reality, or give fair opportunity to black female (and this is atrocious, I can hardly think of one black female actor in the past 5 years) and male actors, then rules should be brought in place to ensure that 15% minimum of the cast must be someone of various ethnic background, or in regards to black people, 10% of the cast should be black. If there is a cast of 10 people, 1 person should be black. This would help the no-brainers at the top come to terms with what it means to cast fairly.

Clearly, these are abusing their power and it is wrong. All the black youths have to look up today is Tinie Templah's and Dizee Rascals (poor guys).

Something needs to be done as Hollywood is acting irresponsibly. But well done to the few directors who have cast black in their films. What these other film makers don't understand is that sociologists and media students are studying film a great deal and looking at these things, analysing the data. And the truth always comes out. Those who are disallowing black actors will, no doubt, be penalised for it. And no, we don't want black people to go off and start their own films simply to bring in others black. We don't want that kind of segregationalism. It's like a black man sitting next to a white man and the wihite man saying, sit next to a black man instead. We ended all that and it cost lives, so we eiher enforce rules so that things are fairer, or, the climate in Hollywood changes to conform to fairness and reality.

We can't let 13% of our population just vanish on our screens.

They are over 40,000,000 (4om) black people in the U.S.A.
They are approximately, 5 black actors in Hollywood representing them. Simple maths folks. That means each one of these black actors represent 8,000,000 (8m) black people. Is that mad. Of course. Is racism rife. It would appear so. Rules do need to be enforced to change this situation otherwise Hollywood is going to carry on abusing their positions. Sadly, there's no remorse whatsoever in Hollywood. It's not fair, only a doofus would think it is. Rules WILL need to be brought in to correct the situation. Read the article and it says: "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". That's absolutely ridiculous and everyone can say this. It's stupidity all over again.

Roger is right (see 3rd comment down). Thanks Roger.
But I think even the solution presented here is though along the right lines, is not accurate enough. Don't get me wrong, I like the argument and I like the percentage idea, which is why I'm just trying to refine it somewhat - but 30% of the U.S population is of ethnic minority, with 13.5% being black. That would mean that if we were to reflect the general demographics, the Cast should be 30% ethnic minority, with say 15% of it black. In a Cast of say 10, that would mean there would always be 3 people of various ethnicity, with 1 - 2 persons (1 and 1/2) of those people definetely being black, and the other 1 being of the ethnicity of the choice of the director.

Most casts comprise of about 10 important people in film.

We all need to remember that the casting process sometimes involves a series of auditions before a casting panel, composed of individuals such as the producer, director and/or choreographer. Clearly, black actors are going to be demoralised constantly, by going through the long haul of auditions only to be rejected, while seeing others surpass them on their first and second trys. I'm currently doing a study on the amount of black cast in film. After a study in to Twilight:Eclipse, I found that out of the 10 main cast actors, they were no black people. There were three black people in the whole film that I noted. One of them was just a student, who I briefly saw on screen. The other was Laurent, the vampire. The other, a guy that nearly killed Bella in the van. Quite minor roles. That's 3 people, one of whom was only briefly seen. Out of 100 actors I saw in the film, only 3 were black, 2 occupied roles involving speech. That's 2%. In the sequel, there was 1 black person, that's 1% of the actors. There should be 13 times that many actors, at least.

But it's the same for film as well as TV shows, and some of the most succesful. CSI's rarely have black actors in their CSI teams. In all of the CSI programmes, there are two black people in CSI teams occupying a role of investigation (and one of them has to be Laurence Fish. reusing the same old). That's 2/30, which is 6%, again this is appauling. I mean, I don't see any asian, or people of other ethnicities on their teams either.

Then we can consider other shows like The Mentalist, Vampire Diaries etc etc, the list is very extensive, where there is a clear lack of black people in these programmes. So it's working its way down from Hollywood and desentizing us to the "colour-less" screens. Rules will need to be enforced as abuse is evident and common-place.

not only in movies music awards also but when it come to sports [hahaha] the only then is they make sure what they do in there home life makes front page news

It is sad. When I do happen to watch television--I don't own one--things stand out like--the extra on the comedy show--the black guy who gets made fun of, or the door slammed in his face (saw that one tonight-thanks cbs)--i turn the television off. --Or black people--minorites-- are simply left out--even of the one show that I watch every week, How I Met Your Mother--they do put black actors in the background--but we see that the group must not have any minority friends...it's sad...but it also reflects some people's reality.

I'm just sorry to dismiss so many comments outright dismissing this article without even looking into the situation with an open mind.

instead of just sitting in your chair and criticize this, try to look into the details of said situation, maybe you might actually learn something.

I am a 31 year old actor,who because of genes happens to be black. We can go on an on about the lack of powerful black men in Hollywood, But that was then and this is now, from this point on no more complaining we can't sit and wait for the stars to line up perfect we just have to do ourselves. I will do it, I will change the game that's my mission. I know just how to do that my name is Murcie and I am going to take acting to the next level.

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