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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 

Comments () | Archives (114)

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I am so sorry to say this, because I realize that most of the generation is not afluent in literature or english. It is either they lack the professionalism to pursue a degree in both theatrics and Literature. I pay attention to actors and where they come from. I can read prompts very well just like an anchor or any other advertisment for commercial programming.

I also was extremely dismayed by the "lack of color" at the Academy Awards this year. But then again, the past year has been "the season of being white". The first slap in my face was when a prominent magazine ran the up and comers of tomorrow in a white background...they were all white, so I can only presume they wanted the blending, but not a mix. What Mr. Mackie has expressed for the black male is also right on time for the black female. We are actually being replaced by the Indian/Pakistani and Hispanic. I guess Bollywood (yeah! I know how to spell it) has decided Blacks have had the run on the big and little screen. Now that white people are actually the official minority in the US, are they going to take every role? Look, I work at one of the biggest television stations and even I'm appalled by what I don't see and do see on television and at the movies.


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.

AND in film and commercials its pretty much impossible to have criminals be people of color anymore because it'll come across as "racist." If I see one more film where the street gang is made up white people, I'm going to scream.

Political correctness has distorted all reality. It's a joke.

Anyhow, who said there's supposed to be a quota system in filmmaking?

yes. black actresses also. and fat people who are not funny. and anyone who is not attractive, unless you are a funny fat person. and then you should still be able to have people look at you and say "such a pretty face, why do you hide it in all the fat?"

Los Angeles Times Homicide Report: Are there any young black men alive anymore? 489 Gun Homicides in LA County in 2010. Where are the parents?

Hollywood has always racially discriminated even if it isn't intentional. Just review every tv show about doctors in a hospital and take a close look at the majority white staff. If it reflected reality, you would see a disproportionate amount of east asian and south asian doctors and nurses. Hollywood will never reflect reality. It is make believe. At least they don't stereo type as much as they used to.


Derrick D Loving said:

>>I am so sorry to say this, because I realize that most of the generation is not afluent in literature or english.

Yes, and you are one of them.

1.) You misspelled "affluent".

2.) You can't use "affluent" in this sentence - even if you had spelled it correctly.
The words mean two different things. In your case, the word you need is "fluent".

Go to dictionary.com and look up the meanings of both words.

Your sentence should read:

"I am so sorry to say this, because I realize that most of the generation is not fluent in literature or english."

Hollywood can't take a risk on young black actors right now.

Did you see Mike Huckabee's racist rants against the President this week? Have you read about the young black man who was beaten and branded in Mississippi?

Racism is back with a passion in this nation.

Right now I expect Hollywood is planning a remake of "The Birth of a Nation."

If they can make a buck off of hate, then they'll do it.

Please, Hollywood discriminates against all non white actors. They are relegated to stock characters and the butt of stereotypical jokes. in response to Derrick D Loving's post, do you mean to tell me that Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp are Shakespearian trained actors? No, they were actors given a shot and they improved on their acting skills as they made more movies. Getting the break, as any A-lister will tell you, is the hardest to accomplish. therefore, if you are never given the chance, because you are non white, you will never make it in Hollywood. Period!!


Hollywood is predominately liberal and I would have expected more expansive thinking in casting and utilizing non-Caucasian actors/actress. But the same crowd, that supported Obama, can only see dollar signs so they go with the safer bet which happen to be Caucasian actors/actress. They talk one way and act another, which is no surprise for people in their industry.

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.

Must be a slow news day. Nothing else to do but stir up the race pot.

I think it is important to keep in mind that the current group of black actors that regularly make great movies in Hollywood is so incredibly good that they take most of the great parts that might be otherwise given to a up and comer. Maybe none of them are young anymore, but like all businesses the making money is the objective, and going with a celebrity is always going to make more money than an up and comer. Also at $15 - $20 a ticket how many young people can afford going to the movies regularly. I can't.......


What about Asian-American actors? There are even fewer Asian-American actors in leading roles. Why don't you see them?

Seems strange for Jackson or other black people to complain about this. Black musicians already dominate the hip-hop and R&B scene, so it's not like they aren't represented in entertainment/media generally.

I'd like to see more headline articles in the LA times about Asian-Americans in the media.

Hollywood talks a good game about diversity. But Hollywood is one of the most segregated profession in the country. It'll be nice if there were more black, latino and asian actors in the industry.

Why is there a article about this, well there are basically no asian american male actors. So blacks again crying!

Watching television anymore, one would think just the opposite of "discrimination" against young (or older) Blacks is occurring.

Atleast African-Americans have major players in hollywood, When was the last time you seen a HISPANIC male/female in a lead role that wasn't a gangster or killer? I sure can't remember. SO Steven Zeitchik wheres your story about the lack of hispanics in hollywood?
Everyone kisses up to African-americans to prove their not racist.

No but it discriminates against young deaf actors. List me a single show in Hollywood that is manned by deaf actors!

Name a single series on TV now or ever that was completely staffed by deaf actors? You can't! It's never happened. So don't talk to me about discrimination until you start with the deaf!!!!!

Sorry to say, but in this time and age, Blacks have absolutely nothing to complain about!! They are all over TV!! Look at any given commercial and you'll see a Black individual thrown in the mix. You won't see Latinos or Asians in that mix. You know why? Because they're not complaining nor threating to call the Reverend Al Sharpton to file a complaint!!

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