Monday, March 14, 2005

Has diversity finally reached Hollywood?

I was forwarded this article from a colleague and thought it posed an interesting question so I've decided to post it here. Not sure which mag this was featured in though.

Happy creating.

Has diversity finally reached Hollywood?
By KEVIN HERRERA, Staff Writer 09.MAR.05

Movie industry insiders and independent filmmakers
agree, 2005 has been a banner year for African Americans in cinema.

Jamie Foxx and Morgan Freeman both took home Oscars in an awards
ceremony featuring more minorities nominated than ever before; three
of the year's highest-grossing films — "Coach Carter," "Are We There
Yet?" and "Hitch" — all star black men; while the "hottest" movie at
the Sundance Film Festival, a barometer for what's hip in Hollywood,
was "Hustle & Flow," a film by John Singleton, an African-American
director from South Los Angeles.

While few would call this recent success a renaissance in African-
American film ("Hitch," "Diary" and "Are We There Yet?" are not
considered great cinematic achievements), industry experts said it
is certainly significant, for it signals an evolution in an industry
that has long resisted attempts to diversify.

How long this will last, and what impact it will have in terms of
getting more minorities in front of and behind the camera is
anyone's guess.

"There has been a huge climactic shift," said veteran director Mike
Schultz, whose films include "Car Wash," "Krush Groove," Berry
Gordy's "The Last Dragon" and most recently, "Woman, Thou Art
Loosed." "When I came on the scene, I think there was only Gordon
Parks, Melvin Van Peebles, who had been ostracized by Hollywood, and
Sidney Poitier was doing his `Uptown Saturday Night' thing and that
was it.

"Today there are all kinds of movies coming out with very talented
young directors of color. I see a critical mass of trained black
professionals in every aspect of the business, which I think will
translate into more quality stories being told."

"Blacks are getting offered more mainstream roles now and the
Academy [of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences] and critics are
recognizing what these actors can do outside of `Soul Plane'
or `Booty Call,'" said Laurence Washington, co-publisher of "Soul Plane" and "Booty Call" were films heavily
criticized in the black community for portraying African Americans
as buffoons or sex-crazed fools, with director Spike Lee and the
Rev. Jesse Jackson speaking out against them.

Washington is skeptical of course, never willing to trust the
motives of major studios. "Today blacks are the flavor of the
month," he said. "Tomorrow, who knows? And in Hollywood, the bottom
line is the bottom line."

Because Hollywood is all about "the green," meaning money, producer
Reuben Cannon, who was behind "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," which
debuted at number one, stunning industry experts, said he would like
to see a movement towards more collaboration between black
filmmakers and black producers, not with major studios, who Cannon
feels exploit minority audiences desperately craving quality
entertainment. If studios will not hire minorities in positions of
power, it makes sense for blacks to support themselves, Cannon said.

"Real progress will happen only when we finally combine our creative
talents with our financial resources," he said. "I want to see a
movement toward black independent films because that is the only way
to keep the integrity of the art intact. If we do business the
traditional way, through major studios, we are only going to get
frustrated or disapprove of the finished product because there are
no black executives monitoring the process. We will not see a change
until we become the change. We can't wait for studios to come to us."

To finance "Hustle & Flow," Singleton spent $3.5 million of his own
money. Now studios are offering him four times that amount to
distribute the film, he said.

"What you have are black people taking charge," Singleton said from
the set of his new film "Four Brothers." "You have Tyler Perry
[creator of `Diary'] financing that himself and Ice Cube produced
[`Are We There Yet?'] you know, so it is a really good time to be
making films independently. African Americans are really popular in
entertainment right now."

Or are they?

Some have questioned the importance of box office figures,
considering the release dates for "Diary," "Hitch," "Are We There
Yet?" and "Coach Carter," all fell in or around Black History Month,
which is considered to be one of the slowest periods of the year for
films, and a perfect time to release films appealing to black
audiences. That may have contributed to the high box-office returns,
some said.

"You are not going to put these movies up against your typical
Hollywood blockbusters and that is why you are seeing them all
released right now," said Ralph Scott, program director for the
Black Hollywood Education and Resource Center in Los Angeles, who is
very critical of the lack of minorities greenlighting films, which
he said creates movies based on offensive stereotypes. "Once it hits
May or June, you won't see these types of films except for maybe an
F. Gary Gray film."

Gray directed "Be Cool," "The Italian Job," as well as "Friday," and
like Antoine Fuqua, another black director who made "Training
Day," "Tears of the Sun," and "King Aurthur," Gray is considered a
filmmaker with that all-important "crossover appeal."

"I think you have seen the success of these films because they are
not niche films or black films or urban films, they are good movies
with crossover appeal," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box
office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations.

"With the right actor, these films are not considered black films,
but just good entertaining films that people of all ethnic
backgrounds want to see," said Gitesh Pandya, editor of "Movies like `Ray,' `Diary,' and `Barbershop,'
where the majority of the cast is black, are showing Hollywood that
there is a big appetite for films like these and with the right cast
and story, crossover sales to their moviegoers can lead to very
strong profits. The color Hollywood really loves is green and if a
type of film can bring home the bacon, the industry will take

Scott warns to be weary of the hype. Major studios will capitalize
on it the best way they know how, and that is producing films that
lack honest portrayals and poignant content.

"Whites are comfortable as long as blacks are doing the things that
are stereotypical, shooting each other, degrading our women, not
being a father to our children," Scott said. "But once we are loving
and caring human beings, it doesn't fit and doesn't seem right. Of
course Denzel [Washington] is going to win an Oscar for playing a
bad guy [in `Training Day'] and Halle Berry for a hoochie momma
[in `Monster's Ball.'] Until the mindset that creates that outcome
changes, I think we are just seeing another peak before a deep
valley in black films. Hollywood is going to end up treating [this
recent success] as a trend and it will not be ongoing. I assure you.
These will be treated like flukes."

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