Thursday, July 24, 2008

I Guess Sistah's Don't Watch Block Buster Movies

I was planning on doing a blog on this but Margeaux Watson nailed it

It's Time to Put Black Actresses in Hollywood Blockbusters Margeaux Watson

I like Will Smith as much as any other black woman — as much, for that matter, as any person, given that he has once again proved that he is the most bankable star in the universe. But I did not like Hancock. (Spoiler alert!) Smith's relationship with Charlize Theron was just plain bizarre: She's secretly superhuman! They've been married for eons! She's also married to Jason Bateman! What gives?
But the duo bothered me on a deeper level, too. Why is it that once an actor like Smith reaches A-list status, Hollywood never seems to pair him with a black actress in a potential blockbuster? From Denzel Washington (Training Day) to Dwayne ''The Rock'' Johnson (The Game Plan), leading African-American actors have been increasingly matched with non-black love interests. The sci-fi comedy Meet Dave (out now) finds Eddie Murphy romancing Elizabeth Banks, while Smith is paired with Latina actress Rosario Dawson in his next film, Seven Pounds (out in December). It's obviously a strategy to make these films as accessible as possible to all audiences, but I think it also expresses an implicit fear: A film featuring the coupling of a black actor and actress is too ''urban'' for the masses.
Just imagine how refreshing Hancock would have been if Theron's heroine had been played by a black actress like Tracee Ellis Ross (TV's Girlfriends), Paula Patton (Déjà Vu), or even Smith's real-life wife, Jada. Would the movie have tanked? Will Smith's last seven films have opened at No. 1, and Charlize Theron didn't star in any of those.
I don't have a thing against Theron — I loved her in Monster. And I don't have anything against Will Smith, either — he's done an enormous amount for African-Americans in Hollywood by proving to studios that actors of color can open movies here and overseas. I don't even have anything against interracial couples on screen — in fact, that's a nice sign of progress. My beef is that Hollywood opts for these couples again and again. The result? Black actresses are getting the shaft, and reality as I know it is not getting portrayed on the big screen. (And please don't mention Tyler Perry's name to me — Madea doesn't represent me either.)
Right now, with the exception of Halle Berry, Queen Latifah, and occasionally, Beyoncé Knowles, African-American women rarely get above-the-title billing in mainstream movies that pull in big numbers. Even when they do end up in supposedly plum roles as the love interest of a white male, most of their screen time is spent talking about and dealing with the fallout of that relationship. Just look at Sanaa Lathan, who freaked out when Simon Baker discovered she wears a weave in Something New. Or Zoe Saldana, who struggled to get her father (Bernie Mac) to accept her relationship with Ashton Kutcher in Guess Who.
And Lord knows I can't wait to see Lakeview Terrace, due out Sept. 19. This thriller, which is produced by Smith, finds Kerry Washington and Patrick Wilson playing an interracial couple living in L.A., suffering the wrath of their disapproving neighbor: an angry black cop played by Samuel L. Jackson.
C'mon, Hollywood, this is tired territory. Haven't you redone Guess Who's Coming to Dinner enough? Why can't black actresses play lead roles in benign romantic comedies like 27 Dresses and Made of Honor — or Hitch? Here's the real hitch: Until women like Nia Long and Gabrielle Union are cast opposite big guns like Smith and Washington, they'll never gain the recognition they need to open their own films. And until that happens, well, I'll always have Dreamgirls. nailed it


Amanda said...

I feel what you're saying...and the sad thing is that there are PLENTY of black actress' that could do the job. Gabrielle Union, Sanaa Latham, Nia Long, and the list goes on and on. These women are already big, but they'll be placed on the map and things will start looking up. Speaking of looks, Femi Emiola is the one you need to watch out for. Girlfriend is about to blow up, especially after starring in Toyota's "If Looks Could Kill" series.

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Scott Phillips said...

Hi there. I sent a letter to Entertainment Weekly regarding Margeaux Watson's commentary that you posted here. I found your site doing a search, and I thought I'd copy the letter I sent to EW in response...



I know this is late, regarding the July 18th issue #1002. I meant to write and recently picked up the issue again to page through and was reminded that I wanted to comment.

I have a couple comments about Margeaux Watson's Commentary "It's Time To Put Black Actresses in Hollywood Blockbusters."

My first is a complaint about the major spoiler she printed. Granted, she wrote "spoiler alert" just before, but I really think (and this could be a good rule for all articles or news and notes sections) that it would be a good idea to issue a spoiler alert either in the title, or as a sub-title. Once I start reading an article, I like to continue. I generally stay away from reviews, since most movie reviewers spoil most of the plot. They can't simply comment on the quality of the film without replaying the plot scene by scene. In a commentary about black actresses in blockbusters, giving away THE major twist of Hancock was completely unnecessary to her thesis. She could have simply stated that Charlize Theron is the female lead.

Second, while I agree to a point that black actresses (and minorities in general) should get more roles, why is it only about black actresses? Why not Hispanic, Asian, etc? Why not promote diversity in film? Even so, if we're just staying on topic of black actresses, I'd like to point out that there are black actresses in Hollywood Blockbusters. Some examples:

Halle Berry in Swordfish, The X-Men series, and Catwoman.
Sanaa Lathan (a terrific actress) was the LEAD period (over any male stars even) in Alien vs. Predator.
Vivica A. Fox starred in Kill Bill
Jada Pinkett-Smith starred in both Matrix sequels.
I'm sure there are other examples, I can't think of any more off the top of my head.

Margeaux Watson's subtitle to her article (only online, not in print) states: "Why African-American women like Gabrielle Union and Nia Long need to be cast opposite Denzel Washington and Will Smith." Did she forget that Will Smith's co-star and love interest in Bad Boys II was... Gabrielle Union? How about Vivica A. Fox in Independence Day? Or Men in Black II's Rosario Dawson (according to, she's mixed so I don't know if Ms. Watson counts that). But how about "Ali," "The Pursuit of Happyness, "Enemy of the State," or "I Am Legend?" Looks like Will Smith has had a lot of black actresses as his co-stars, in some pretty big blockbusters.

And maybe it wasn't Nia Long, but Denzel's last Blockbuster type movie, "Deja Vu" had his co-star and love interest a black actress named Paula Patton. Patton (apparantly also mixed races according to some sites) also is the lead in this summer's "Mirrors" starring opposite Kiefer Sutherland (the interracial tables are turned). The list for Denzel could include his black co-stars in "John Q," "Out of Time," "Remember the Titans," and more. I don't know the stats, but I wonder if his love interests or spouses on film have been black the majority of the time. It sure looks that way.

I agree that black women (and women of other non-white races) are missing from the Summer 2008 blockbuster season. Television is also declining in diversity, which saddens me (No CSI! I loved Warrick! But you won me back with Larry Fishburne.) But I feel like commentaries such as the one in this issue are off base given the proof I provided above. And again, why is it only about black actresses? I was glad to see the article (I forget which issue) about race on TV. We should be striving for diversity and more roles for every minority, not just black. Where are the Asians, Hispanics, Middle Eastern or Native Americans in TV and film? I'd like to see more commentary on that as well.

Thanks for your time,