July 04, 2010

Audiences more openminded than Hollywood

Michael Le, cofounder of Racebending, helps demolish the argument that Hollywood is rationally pursuing the bottom line when it casts white actors as minorities:

An Open Letter to Racebending.com Detractors

By Michael LeHollywood is a business, but it is still run by people who have certain worldviews. Most Hollywood films are marketed toward men. But the American movie-going audience is 55% female. Only 45% of people buying tickets are men, but Hollywood is clinging to a marketing mindset from the 1930s, and they’re losing out on a lot of business.

If 55% of movie tickets are being bought by women now, even when films are hardly marketed to them, how much money could Hollywood make if they started focusing more on this demographic?

And just as Hollywood holds onto this bias toward male movie-goers, so too are they stuck on this notion that actors of color can’t carry film. The television industry is catching up: look at the big-hitters recently. You have successful programs like Lost, Glee, and Community with very diverse casts. You have children’s programming like Ni Hao Kai Lan and Dora the Explorer.

And when audiences have a choice of who they want to watch? You only have to look at the success of Asian American performers in reality television like America’s Best Dance Crew. On YouTube, the single most successful star is Japanese American. When audiences have a choice and a vote and a say in what they want to watch–they’re just as happy to choose Asian American as white American.

So the message to Hollywood is: we know that you’ve always used Caucasian actors for almost every big role. You’re used to it. But the Western world is changing. We have a biracial African American president and a Muslim Miss USA.

To production companies out there: tap into the audiences that your competitors are ignoring! Americans care about seeing media that reflects the world we truly live in. Half of Racebending.com supporters are Caucasian–because audiences can relate to transforming robots, giant blue aliens, kung fu pandas. And yes, even to Asian faces.
Comment:  We've discussed before how Avatar and Twilight prove the market for movies with Native components. The Karate Kid proves the market for movies with Asian components. What are you waiting for, Hollywood?

Michael was too polite to say it, but I'm not. Hollywood isn't casting white actors because they're marketable or profitable. It's casting them because the system is racially biased.

For more on casting and The Last Airbender, see Minorities Aren't Quite American and Dismissing the Pro-Airbender Arguments. For more on casting in general, see Hollywood's Cultural Conservatism and Indians Hold Steady at 0.3%.

Below:  It's considered one of the worst movies ever, but it stars white people, so it's okay. When it flops, Hollywood's response is to do more of the same, not to try movies starring minorities.


Chief Hollywood said...

I have said time and time again that Hollywood and mainstream America are stuck in a time warp where there are endless repeats of stories and themes that deal with "white-only" romance, comedy, action, etc,.

How many more full feature films must we see where the leading actors/actresses are anglo romantic comedy or drama?

It has been done and redone and redone and, well, I think you get the point!

Boy meets girl, girl ignores boy cause she already has a boy who is a jerk, and then, boy wins girl over! And it has to always be white actors. They might be older or younger characters, poor or affluent people, it might even be a major studio or independent film, but the actors are always white!

There are tons of stories out there from smaller minority groups like Latinos, Asians and Native Americans that are virtually untapped and bypassed by the wealthy white media moguls that run both Hollywood and the FCC.

This is the reason we continue to have racial stereotypes and a racist film industry.

Today, it is my generation of people making films from the seventies like the Dukes of Hazzard or Brady Bunch or the Batman and Star Trek series.

This doesn't hold alot of originality and creative initiative in the American cinema or the American audiences either, but rather it appears the film industry is stifled and trapped in its own racial prejudices and limited social and political ideas that are obvious in its current state of imagination or lack thereof!

m. said...

Audiences are comprised of people from all different backgrounds. It's the Hollywood execs that aren't, and therein lies the problem! While I don't agree that the cast of 'Glee' is what qualifies as 'diverse' (I feel it's more the 'tokenizing addition of a black co-worker or some Asian people in an otherwise white circle of friends' definition of "diversity"), just look at 'Lost'! Were the viewers not from varied walks of life? There was an Iraqi engineer played by a dark-skinned South Asian actor (which counts as miscasting, but he is visibly non-white, dammit). There was a Korean couple, not an interracial white male/Asian female couple. There was a white guy with a culturally appropriative tattoo that was made to look like an overbearing, pompous ass. There was a sweet, funny guy who is fat but didn't play "the kooky fat guy that we're all laughing at, not with". My best friend says her obsession with this show is due to the same reasons I'd imagine many others would say: the fact that you not only get sucked into the bigger plot, but you actually get sucked into each of the characters' individualstories and care about their lives. That says it all.