Racism in Hollywood

Table of Content

            Hollywood has become the symbol not only of American motion picture but the world’s as well. It generates a very powerful influence on the moral, cultural as well as political issues of the society and more often than not, these influences give a narrow minded way. Many people cannot help but notice that the moral influence extended by Hollywood seem to spread a negative influence not only because of the violence and sex but also because of the racial discrimination it portrays. It is undeniable that most Hollywood movies reflect racial discrimination and it is because of this reason that people who belong in the lower class or who have different skin color may be disliked, discriminated and perceived negatively by others.

            Even though the image of the racial minorities has improved through the years, it still cannot be denied that Hollywood has an aptitude for portraying their white American self at its best. Statistics show that the roles of minority actors led by Asians, Latinos and the blacks continue to drop. As of 2004, the Asians got approximately 2.5% of all television and theatrical roes while they represent more than 3% of the population and the roles going to the African Americans fell by 3% which left them with 15.3% share in all the television and film roles while they represent more than 12% of the American population (“US Minority Actors Continue Losing Share of Hollywood Acting Roles”,1). Films are ways of expressing what other people think and viewers watch it ot find solace and enjoyment however, it is a sad fact that there are many Hollywood films that present racial discrimination one way or the other. In the movie Lethal Weapon starring Mel Gibson and Danny Clover, the white hero Riggs is more bold and brave than Murtaugh and all throughout the movie, the humor at the expense of the black man never at the expense of the white hero (Vera and Gordon, 6). Gone with the Wind is a classic but seeing how the African Americans were portrayed in the movie, many cannot help but feel that the blacks were not taught how to be blacks in this movie. It only taught the viewers how to be white Southeners (Vera and Gordon, 10).

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            Class conflict is not a subject that is often associated with motion pictures but the first thirty years of twentieth century, when the movies were still being formed, it  has become the battleground for the consciousness and class loyalty (Ross, 3). The book entitled Working Class Hollywood tells about the power struggle for consciousness and control in American history. Hollywood was not made overnight and as such, one is not surprised why early films are about the lives of the working class. Through the years, it can be noticed that most actors and actresses that are hired are white people not only because the moviemakers wanted to capture the attention of the viewers but also because they want to create a stereotype that the white people are richer, smarter and superior than the other races (Levine).

            An author named Michael Parenti said that Hollywood has made it a habit to rule the class privileges by treating people differently as seen in the roles that they give to people of color. A perfect example of this would be in Land of the Dead by George Romero. In here, it can be seen that there are completely two different worlds. The lower working class were living in the streets, had dirty clothes and were all over the place while on the other hand, the upper rich people lived in beautiful houses with electric fences to keep the zombies away. This movie suggests that those who belong to the lower class are not as good as those in the upper class. In life, it clearly does not matter how much money a person has, what’s more important is the kind of person and the heart (Parenti).

            At the dawn of the twenty-first century, it is extremely difficult to find white performers who do not cause intimidation to African Americans than it is to find those that do (Gabbard, 1). In the article entitled The Black Actor’s dilemma, the author discusses the discrimation between the Whites and the Blacks when it comes to their roles. If African Americans were to have a role in Hollywood movies, they are often given characters that degrade themselves and act foolishly (Barbas). One great example would be the movie entitled Birth of the Nation. It is an extremely racist movie that represents African Americans as savages which is really not the case. Gone With the Wind is  another masterpiece filled with many slave characters that deeply degrade the African Americans but it is ironic that this movie which portrays one of the biggest prejudices about African Americans produced the first African American actress to receive an Oscar in the person of Hattie McDaniel for her role as Mammy. Even if it is extremely difficult to see past the stereotype, it is also a breakthrough to see the character of a black person to have the courage to talk back which is something that the African Americans are not suppose to do during that era (Vera and Gordon, 23).

            The racial discrimation in Hollywood has penetrated not only the eyes of the adults but the minds of the children as well. The movie Aladdin is suppose to be entertaining for kids but as early as they are, they have been exposed to the racism that has been happening in Hollywood. Even though Aladdin is a protagonist, his character was portrayed as an Arab who is dumb and poor and this can be perceived negatively by the children(Shaheen).  Aladdin is not the only cartoon that seems to have a double meaning because there have been many cases of racism in Disney movies. In The Lion King, it can be discerned that the hyenas were speaking in African American dialects and they are considered as bad guys while in Peter Pan, the father of Tiger Lily represents the stereotype about Native Americans being uncivilized savages.

            The quest for truth about the lives of people who have different skin color is never an easy task, not in history books and certainly not in Hollywood. Intentional or not, the racism in movies is but a reflection of a nation that is living in the shadow of its dark segregated history. Even though Hollywood is but one of the aspect of the society that highlights racism, it is very influential and highly regarded by many people. It is time to wake up the movie makers to cast the shackles of the past and move towards a new era where the people are not judged by the color of their skin but by who they are as persons. Diversity must be encouraged and every step taken towards it can be said to be a step towards the right direction.

Annotated Bibliography

Barbas, Samantha. “The black actor’s dilemma.” The Women’s Review of Books Mar.-Apr. 2006: 25+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 19 May 2010. The author of the article discusses the inequalities between the White and African Americans in terms of movie roles. The Whites are the ones who are assuming leading roles. The African Americans, on the other hand, are often given minor acting roles and they have to work much harder than the white actors to survive. The article also discusses how a Black actress named Hattie McDaniel survives in Hollywood. It shows that McDaniel is always assuming roles which are portraying lower classes in the society.

Hagedorn, J. “Asian Women in Film: No Joy, No Luck.” Appeared in the January-February 1994 issue of Ms. Magazine. Copyright © 1994 by Jessica Hagedorn. Reprinted by permission of the author and her agents. Harold Schmidt Literary Agency. The author suggests that Hollywood always portray Asian women as tragic victim and powerless. This article also brings a relationship between The Joy Luck Club and the Asian Hollywood actress.

Gabbard, K. Black Magic: White Hollywood and African American Culture. US: Rutgers University Press, 2004. The author reveals in this book the disturbing roles that Blacks are asked to play particularly in movies eventhough their cultural heritage in literary, music and art is duly recognized. In this book, we can see an authentic racial discrimination among the Americans eventhough some are claiming that racial discrimination is no longer an issue in the country.

Levine, Elana. “Working-Class Hollywood: Silent Film and the Shaping of Class in America”.  Velvet Light Trap (1999): 97+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 19 May 2010. This article gives a detail analysis of one of the Steven J. Ross’s works Working-Class Hollywood: Silent Film and the Shaping of Class in America. The author discusses about the inequities between classes in Hollywood in the early-twentieth-century.

MaericanRennaisance.com (11 October 2004). US Minority Actors Continue Losing Share of Hollywood Acting Roles. Retrieved June 4, 2010, http://www.amren.com/mtnews/archives/2004/10/us_minority_act.php.  The article shows that minority actors who are composed of Asians and Latino males are continuously declining their film roles.

Parenti, M. Make-Believe Media: The Politic of Entertainment. US: Wadsworth, 1992. 15-30. The author indicates that the Hollywood is ruling the class privilege and treating people in different classes differently. Hollywood is portraying virtue is ascribed to people who are in middle or upper class.

Shaheen, Jack. “Aladdin.” Cineaste Winter 1993: 49. Literature Resource Center. Web. 19 May 2010. The article shows how the movie entitled “Aladdin” which is supposed to be intended for kids portray racism. Although he is the main protagonist and hero in the plot, the main character Aladdin who is an Arab portrays an unethical character. He is poor and dumb and can be viewed negatively by the children.

Vera, H and Gordon, A. Screen saviors: Hollywood fictions of whiteness. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, 2003. 6, 10 & 23. This book talks about how Hollywood is still portraying the ideal white American self as better than people in other colors, although the image of racial minorities is improving.


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