#HollywoodSoWhite: How Lack of On-Screen Diversity Perpetuates White Supremacy

Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One in “Dr. Strange” (Photo credit: YouTube).

By Guest Contributor: Martin Tsai

This post originally appeared on Medium.

By almost single-mindedly catering to a young, white, male audience, Hollywood has been complicit in fostering and perpetuating white hegemony.

The Hollywood Diversity Report by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA found only 29 percent of films released in 2015 featured female leads and only 13.6 percent featured minority leads. A USC Annenberg study of the 700 top-grossing films between 2007 and 2014 (excluding 2011) and their more than 30,000 characters revealed that diversity in casting remained stagnant. White male moviegoers are seldom required to identify or empathize with female or minority characters, something female and minority moviegoers have little choice but to do with white male characters.

We learn from watching. If dramas are developmental exercises in identification and empathy in our formative years, one can easily surmise why many white men — such as those who take part in the alt-right movement — believe the world should revolve around only them, and women and minorities should be relegated to supporting roles or disappear entirely.

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How Chris Rock Undermines His Own Message With Unnecessary (and Racist) Anti-Asian Jokes

Chris Rock introduces three young Asian/Asian American children at Oscars 2016. (Photo credit: Rex)
Chris Rock introduces three young Asian/Asian American children at Oscars 2016. (Photo credit: Rex)

At the age of 51, Chris Rock has evolved far beyond being the brash stand-up comedy of his early days. His latest film projects (Head of State, I Think I Love My Wife, and Top Five) are characteristically funny, but what makes them resonate is their meta-textual commentary on race, politics and Chris Rock’s personal life. With his latest slate of films, Rock no longer simply entertains; he expresses himself and explores the world around him as part comedian, part philosopher, part public intellectual.

In particular, Top Five offered insight into Rock’s reflections – oftentimes wistful and self-critical — on being a Black man in White Hollywood, and the distance that this placed between him and the rest of Black America. It’s a fantastic, deeply intimate film that deserves a wider reach than it received, but it is not without its flaws. Others have written about Top Five’s bad gay joke, but fewer have mentioned that Chris Rock slipped in some cringe-inducing and completely unnecessary anti-Asian jokes over the course of the film.

It has been a little while since I’ve seen Top Five, but at least one joke involves Rock grilling Rosario Dawson’s character – who plays Rock’s love interest — about her dating history, incredulous that a past boyfriend was Asian. The implication, of course, was that Asian and Asian American men are bad in bed. Dawson rejects the remark by pointing out that Asians make up a large segment of the world’s population and therefore – of course – Asian men are good at sex, but the damage is done. As others in the theatre laughed at yet another comedian made yet another joke about the (untrue) stereotype of the “small Asian penis”, I felt angered, betrayed and marginalized as an Asian American woman.

What was perhaps even more frustrating was that the inclusion of these objectively racist jokes in Top Five was totally unnecessary. Top Five is otherwise a smart, well-written, and racially nuanced film that offered a compelling deep dive into contemporary Blackness. So: why did he also include the totally pointless, unfunny, and lazy humour of Asian-bashing and gay-bashing?

That’s pretty much how I feel about Sunday night’s Oscars.

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