Screenwriter "Hollywood's not liberal. That is such an oxymoron; such a joke. There are so many things... I don't even know where to begin, because it's so pinned up, because you have to control it. One of the things that Hollywood, along with society, has successfully done is blame the victim. You're the victim of racism, but they blame you if you say anything. You will never be able to get behind a computer again in your life.
"Hollywood is anything but liberal. I call them liberal bigots. Hollywood is filled with liberal bigots, and they use the thing of being liberal as a reason for being bigoted, for if they'd listen to themselves talk, and listen to their friends talk, they would find that they tell way too many black jokes, ethnic jokes."
Producer "No female director has ever won an Academy Award. You know why? Because no female director has made a film worthy of it. I don't feel like it's a lack of opportunity. I feel like a female director hasn't proven herself. Directing is hard for anybody who wants to get into it. There aren't that many women pursuing it. In my film school, there was probably one woman for every ten guys. Catherine Hardwicke made Thirteen, then she made two bad movies, Lords of Dogtown and The Nativity Story. Then she did Twilight and knocked it out of the park and now she's considered an A-list director. She'll be able to work again because her movie made a ton of money. There are so few opportunities that it's hard for everyone. John Singleton was at the right place at the right time with the right script. Brett Ratner came from money, had the opportunity to finance his reel, and had the personality and the contacts to make a career for himself. Look at the two parallels. Singleton went to USC, was the only black kid in his class and became a success. The only other ones who went on to become a success around that same time were Bryan Singer and James Gray, but no one else in Singleton's class went on to be successful. He had the goods and the way to make it happen. Hollywood is a very tough industry to break into, period. It's hard to get movies made in the studio system. So you can complain and claim bigotry in any industry, but it's about being able to show them that you have a product that is going to make money. There're plenty of minorities that will get hired before I do. The fact that Hollywood touts itself as liberal is ridiculous because all they care about is the bottom line and making money. They don't care about making socially conscious movies. They don't care about hiring minorities or bringing work to communities unless there's a huge tax break and it fits their bottom line. That's all they care about. And if they can hire a black person or a woman for less money who is going to do just as good a job as a high-priced white director, they'll hire that black person or woman."
Manager “Studios are always trying to be politically correct. In baseball or football, there are laws now with those sports that before anyone hires a coach, they must interview at least two African Americans. You can’t hire anyone without meeting at least two black people. In Hollywood, it’s very similar. From a corporate point of view, they try to do that.
“A couple of years ago, I sold this movie. It was a horrible movie, but there was one black guy in the movie. And every time they’d cut to him, he said, ‘Take the camera off of me. I’m just the token black guy.’ It was funny. And it was funny because it’s like an inside joke off of a joke of a joke.”
Screenwriter “I wrote a very celebrated movie. I busted my ass, worked hard. I would meet with the director from nine o’clock in the morning – to talk, not to write – until about twelve or one o’clock in the morning. Now, it took that long, because he was on the phone, all of the time, chitchatting with his friends. It should have been a shorter meeting. Then I would write until two or three o’clock in the morning. I finish the script and do all of this work, and then him and another white guy lie and say they wrote it! And white Hollywood believed them over me. I couldn’t fight it, because if I tried to fight it, if I were to scream racism, I’m done. He did something on the set that pushed me to the point as a man where I could have kicked his ass. Then what would have happened is the owners would have been on me: ‘Violent black writer loses his temper and beats up white director.’ Even though all of Hollywood knows that this guy is a jerk.
“Then I had to go through the whole shame of going to meetings where people were asking me, ‘So did you really write this? Can we see samples of other stuff you did?’ Even though this guy has never written anything that they can point to and go, ‘Oh, well, he’s written this.’ Since then, he hasn’t written anything, but because he was white… He said in the arbitration letter, ‘I didn’t want anybody to know my efforts were being done because I didn’t want to undermine Mr. [name withheld].’ Can you believe that? I literally cried when I read the arbitration letter. So he played the affirmative action card, [claiming] that I was an affirmative action writer. There are whites in this town who still to this day believe that this white man [wrote the script].”
Agent “On the director front, it’s the most liberal, open town for a career ever. I don’t think there’s a business where there’s more of an international feel to one field. There are directors from all over the world; some have gone to film school, some have taught themselves, some come from commercials, some put the film on their credit card. They’re people from all walks of life, who had enough talent to put something together that movie executives responded to and that got them another movie. Why are the bulk of them men? I can’t imagine an executive goes, ‘I’d rather hire a Russian guy who can barely speak English than a woman who’s been at this for a while.’ Obviously there aren’t many female directors. I don’t know why.
“As for black writers, it’s all on the page. Whatever a person decides to write is the genre they write in. People are hired based on samples and work they’ve done. Maybe I see the world through rose-colored glasses, but I don’t think there’s one thing that you can point to and go, ‘This is why there’re more men writing this kind of movie and more women writing this kind of movie and more African Americans writing this kind of movie.’ There’s more than that. However you look at it, you can make it seem like people are pigeonholed regardless of the color of their skin. If I’m a white guy who writes comedies, then I’m going to keep getting comedies, but if I choose to not do comedies, then I’m not going to get that anymore.”
Screenwriter “I went to a meeting at Warner Bros., with a producer and a director and an exec. I’m sitting there, and I’m a black writer going to write about this black guy. I won’t say what he did, because that’d give away who it was. So before the meeting started, the three white guys started telling towelhead jokes: ‘This towelhead this, this towelhead that.’ And I’m sitting there listening to them tell these towelhead jokes. The Warner Bros. exec started it, and then the producer and this director chimed in on it. I couldn’t believe this was taking place. I didn’t say a word; you know I’m not going to say an N-word joke or tell a towelhead joke because I’m next. So I’m listening to this. Then, afterwards, they then start talking about this black project, which I had no interest in pitching, because I thought, ‘You’re some of the most insincere sons of bitches I ever met in my life’ – motherfuckers is the better word. I had another life before I became a writer, and I’d never heard any shit like this before. I probably gave them one of the most insincere pitches I ever gave in my life because I didn’t want to be a part of [anything with] these three assholes. I couldn’t believe they were doing it. It was totally unnecessary.”
Producer “I remember when I produced my very first movie. I was sitting in a room with a very famous director and his development staff. I was the only female in the room, and I kept making suggestions to cut different scenes, [like] one too many funerals. And I was completely ignored. Cut to this very famous director. He would say the same exact thing that I had said, not even a minute after I said it. And everyone at the meeting would be like, ‘Oh, yes. Good idea. That’s what we should do!’ It was like I never said it. I was invisible. I don’t know if that was sexism, but it sure felt like it. My opinion didn’t matter. Why was I talking?
“So there are those instances, and then there are other scenarios where I’ve had many projects, in particular dramas, that either told black history or featured black actors. It’s virtually impossible to get them made unless they’re comedies. So sexism and racism exist, and Hollywood is hypocritical. I don’t know if it will ever change, sadly. How many female directors do you see out there? How many female producers? There’re a few, but not very many. You see what they do to actresses after a certain age, and what they do to any project that stars an actress. Those films are very hard to get made. The only instance where things have changed with respect to black films is if and when they find a way to make money off of them. Then all they want is that particular kind of film.
“A lot of times I don’t think that the upper echelon of Hollywood are leaders but followers, because they always follow what makes money, and that’s due to the corporatization of the business. What makes money is typically these franchises and testosterone-filled movies based on games. Only when they see something profit do they think, ‘Oh, we should make more movies like that.’ So the reality is that people came out for Obama. If they came out for films, good films instead of just shit films, or the films that have the most marketing, then maybe these other films would have a chance. But they don’t. They don’t come out for movies that feature women, they don’t come out and support or champion films that are directed or produced by women. So until such a time that there’s a revolution, like there just was, then I don’t really see it changing.”
Screenwriter “When I walked up to sign up over at Columbia Studios, it was the first big day of picketing, they wanted to [see my Guild card]. I love my guild, so I wanted to sign up. I don’t know if I don’t look the part, I don’t know if I don’t look the role, but I walk up, and I’m in line, and some lady makes some joke about all of us being white and Jewish, and so I say, ‘Well, not everybody.’ And she goes, ‘Oh, I guess I shouldn’t have said that.’ So then this other woman (I found out later that she was a writers’ assistant on some TV show) said, ‘Well, you should be over there.’ I said, ‘That’s fine with me,’ because it was a shorter distance on the side street. I didn’t want to be out in front anyway. But none of the writers talked to me. They all had their little groups, they were all talking to one another, and I’d say, ‘Hey, there’s somebody,’ and nobody talked to me. Then, when the line dwindled down, I said to two writers who had been talking to each other – we’d been walking back and forth, so when you made your turn to come back, they were making their turn to come back toward me – I [said], ‘God, it’s just us, there’s the three of us.’ They looked at me like I’d slapped their mother and they go, ‘What?’ I said, ‘It’s just the three of us.’ ‘Well, don’t worry about it,’ and the unsaid word was, ‘Nigga.’ ‘Just look,’ you know, like I was the dumbest thing on the planet, ‘here come some people now.’ And I said, ‘Oh, good.’ But it was weird how I was treated. And these were television writers.”
Director “Hollywood’s attitude is, ‘You’re lucky that we allow you to be here.’ Talent trumps everything. I really wish I could do something else, but this is it; I love what I do. So you’re locked in a box where you can’t really say or do anything else but go along, keep your mouth shut and work. But in the meantime, these bigots are sitting across from you smiling and pretending that they’re liberals. The sad thing about them is that you’ve experienced bigotry all of your life, and you know bigotry when you see it. But some of them actually feel that they know more about being black than you do. That’s happened on more than one occasion. I was in a meeting, and a question came up about being black and about dealing with racism, and I said, ‘Well, that was always important to me.’ Then one of the execs in the meeting zoomed in, and this is a child of privilege, to try to presume to tell me what it was like to be black: ‘Well, some of my African-American friends…’ which I always find totally amusing, because we’re black. You’re white, we’re black, but they always try to preface it with ‘Some of my African-American friends…’ or ‘Maybe the African-American feels…’ Or the real cheap shot is to try to trivialize it with, ‘Well, I know what it’s like, because I was discriminated against because I had long hair,’ or because of this or that, which is totally different. They can tell what I am two blocks away. If I’m just walking toward people, if I get on the elevator, I don’t have to say a word. Everybody cringes before I can even open my mouth. They don’t know that I’m whoever. They don’t care. It’s amazing for me after people find out and they go, ‘Oh, hi! How are you doing?’ I’ve had situations where people have ignored me and then somebody goes, ‘Oh, this is so-and-so, he directed so-and-so’ and then they go, ‘Oh, hi! Oh, I feel so stupid.’ I want to say to them, ‘No, no, no, a few minutes ago you were stupid, now you’re just downright ignorant. I wasn’t going to yank your purse.’ It’s another world. You’d be surprised. If you were to sit with me in a meeting, or you were to go with me and just be as a fly on the wall, as they say, you would be astounded at some of the things that are said.”
Entertainment Lawyer “I heard a staggering statistic from a very good source: Tyler Perry’s business right now is a third of the revenue of Lionsgate. Tyler Perry, a third of the revenue of Lionsgate! How unimaginable is that? They are a major independent in the sea of where we are today and they are a major place for new voices to come out. The irony with Tyler is, most people still can’t figure out or don’t like his content. But the point is, he has an audience who’s never been serviced and he’s servicing them to the tune of generating a third of Lionsgate’s revenue. So there are going to be people, hopefully, who are going to be looking for the next Perry, right? Tyler can’t be the only one. There were ten of those guys out there fighting on the circuit and Tyler was the one that got through. But take the arrogance of the Weinsteins, for example: ‘I can never be taken back to my level of prestige by African-American content,’ but they sure as hell want the money. They can’t get their arms around the next Perry. So the next person will run to some other studio just like Perry did.
Fox Searchlight had Diary of a Mad Black Woman and was in line to produce it before Lionsgate. Searchlight called Perry and told him they had a bunch of changes they wanted. They didn’t get it. Perry told them, ‘Hold on for a second. I’ll be right there…I’ll be right there to pick up all my shit and leave!’ He took all his shit to Lionsgate and said, ‘Here’s my cast. I’m putting in some of my own money. Here’s my script.’ And they were in. That film was predicted to have a $3 million, bottom-of-the-barrel, you-haven’t-got-a-prayer opening; that prediction turned into a $21.7 million opening weekend. On that day, Searchlight called begging Tyler and everyone around the project not to embarrass them and disclose that they’d actually had it and messed it up. They were so embarrassed.
“My point is: That scenario still exists for certain women, and the same thing with minorities. The buyers are so stuck in the way they push their product along, they don’t get the great story that might translate so they pass on it or can’t see it through the system. They can’t see these breakout voices. But these breakout voices are going to find creative ways to get through. With Tyler, he was putting up a little of his own money, doing it really small and showing that this audience really existed. The young lady that was kicked off of Twilight and replaced by a white male director for the second installment is a tragic story. That’s a powerful statement: that a woman can take a franchise from print to movie and make it successful. The old guard that has maintained a stranglehold on the system continue to have that stranglehold but there are starting to be cracks, with the emergence of technology, that are allowing women and others to break through.”
Screenwriter “‘Liberal Hollywood’ is an oxymoron. What do they fear? Revenge. Retaliation. The thing that they fail to realize is that if blacks were going to retaliate, it would have happened well before now. People are comfortable with their own stories. For example, I’m comfortable with a story about a black person, and a black hero, and a black family, and whites are comfortable with stories about themselves. Unfortunately, in their world, there’s not any room for stories about anyone else. They can read a good story about someone else and go, ‘That’s wonderful! But is there an audience for it?’ Because it’s not about them. And that is where they sell the American public short. I do think that whites outside of our industry are curious about other people. They go to zoos. So wouldn’t they go to see a movie about somebody else? It’s cold, but is that not true? They’re not closing up zoos because they’re not about white people. Why wouldn’t we think that whites would go see a movie about a culture different than theirs? Why do you keep making the same movie about yourself over and over again? Your love angst, or whatever your feelings, and what’s happening to you this year, over and over again? That’s why I have my own little thing about certain movies I won’t go see. There’s not a room that you go into when there’s a movie about black people or about any ethnic group where you don’t hear, ‘That’s a hard movie to sell.’ ‘That’s going to be tough.’
“I’ve never understood why Will Smith, Samuel L. Jackson and Denzel Washington have not pooled their interests together, and said to themselves, ‘Why don’t we all pull together and make this terrific black film?’ Call every agency in town and say, ‘How many black writers do you have? Let me read their scripts.’ Then, out of those scripts, pick a wonderful film and make it. And make that film to say to Hollywood, ‘There are good black movies out there, there are good black stories out here.’ We are asking whites to do what we won’t do. When is that going to stop? How could blacks stand out there and not touch a black film? They won’t hire black writers. The only way they hire black writers, like, for example, Tyler Perry, is to go nonunion. He won’t pay those writers. That’s disgusting. Here’s a black writer, who knows how rough it is for black writers to get a job, and he won’t pay them residuals, won’t pay them health benefits? I thought, ‘If a white guy did that same thing, he’d be run out of town.’ That’s the hypocrisy. Here he is, he has a chance to do something, and he won’t.
“Spike Lee’s last film [was] with James McBride, who is a brilliant writer. One of the things that Lee did with McBride that is public is that he didn’t pay him to write the first draft. He had him do it for nothing, which is wrong. And the phrase is, with black writers, ‘Brother, can you help me out? ’Cause you know how they do us.’ ‘No, I don’t, motherfucker. I know how they do me! But I don’t know how they do us.’ But I wish to God that Will Smith, Samuel L. Jackson, Denzel Washington, you name the person that has some clout in this town, would pull together and try to source out from these agencies. It would make black writers, and make our stories, much more interesting if black people were interested in them [and] black actors were interested in them, instead of trying to be the next Tom Cruise. You’re not Tom, you won’t be Tom. I don’t care how many movies you make. Well, you’re Tom in a form, but you won’t be Tom Cruise.
“There’re all types of opportunities to do this. Most black actors run away from ethnic pieces. I’ve heard black actors say that they won’t do any biopics about black people. Well, if you don’t do them, who the hell is going to do them? And then you talk about our story not being told? Have they not watched The Queen? Have they not watched The Duchess? Have they not watched Gladiator? Have they not watched King Arthur? You name the story. Whites are telling their history over and over. Appaloosa: They’re telling their history about the West, they’re telling the history about their conquests. They’re heroes. What was that thing that was on HBO, [Band of] Brothers? I wanted to marry a white man. We’re never heroes. We’re never men or women of substance. If these people don’t step up and take a chance, and quit being afraid of being ostracized because they dared to play a real black person, how do we expect these stories to be told? How do they expect our status to change? You don’t see a Hispanic person running away from that. You don’t see a Jewish person. You definitely don’t see an Italian running away from that. They’re definitely going to step up and tell their stories. An Italian guy will play a gangster in a minute and have no problem with it. A black guy? Will Smith as a gangster? Oh, no, no, no, no, no! It’s disgusting. And then you point the finger at whites? They pull the bandwagon. They don’t jump on it – they pull it. You put a hole in a balloon.
“It’s professional suicide, because in this town they think that they’re perfect, and how dare you think that they’re racist. When you practice it, when you turn down a meeting about any black project, you’re practicing racism. But you’ll take some stupid black project, and you’re practicing racism, because it fits your stereotype of what we are as a people. But anything that shows us as human, oh, my God: ‘No, this doesn’t ring true to me.’”
Agent “I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, at a time when agencies are under scrutiny for ageism, and questions of discrimination within the agency, with writers in particular. But agencies do talk about how [to] find and help support more female directors. There’s an inherent value from a business standpoint in representing people who bring a different perspective. And the ones who are successful work all the time. Where do we find directors? We find directors who are writers who want to become directors, and that happens, like a Robin Swicord, who made her first movie. We find people who made independent films who then come into the studio system, and then people who make commercials or music videos. You don’t find that many. If you go to Sundance, I suspect the numbers would be similar to the numbers we see in the studio system, which is bizarre. Why are there not more women making movies? I don’t know. Perhaps it becomes a cycle of, because they don’t see any women making movies, it doesn’t feel attainable in the same way.”
Executive “I don’t know why it’s this way, but it is. There isn’t that much black history. You can’t tell a black story from the 1200s or the 1500s in America. The biggest movie star in the world is black. The biggest growing demographic, in terms of showing power at the box office, is female audiences with Sex in the City and Twilight, and you’ve got a black, female president of production at Universal Pictures. There aren’t that many female directors. There aren’t that many black directors. There aren’t that many female executives or black executives. But I don’t feel like there’re twenty great black executives and they’re not getting their shot.”
Screenwriter “Hollywood is hellbent on telling everybody else’s history, [but] why is [black] history dismissed? It’s amazing to me how easily whites are able to forgive themselves [for] their history. Nobody wants to tell a black period piece to show us as characters instead of caricatures. Now, if a black writer writes a comedy script, you can get that made, no problem. If it’s demeaning to black people, and we are a joke, and the black family is being made fun of, you’ve made a sale. Look at Tyler Perry. God, I don’t want to bash another black man, but look at some blacks, and look at how they make money. They make money by mocking their own race. There is a huge market for that. And Hollywood knows they are hungry for that. They will buy that in a heartbeat. Oh, without a doubt, fish out of water? Shit, you can’t miss with that. A nigga wants to be president? Oh, my God! That’s funny! You know, they made that with Chris Rock a few years ago. That was hilarious, but a joke. But something serious about us as a people? Something serious about the history of this nation dealing with us?
“The white woman in Pittsburgh who claimed that she was attacked at an ATM by a black man, and he carved a ‘B’ in her face for Barack Obama? As a black man, that sent chills down my spine. Because do you know how many millions of dead, black men there are in this nation behind lies like that? No, they died. They killed them. They didn’t send them to jail. They killed these men. They were hung. They were shot. I don’t think there’s a lot in jail now, not of late, but in the early years, there was a huge hanging period after World War I. They were trying to pass no-lynching laws. Hanging a black man after World War I in the 1900s was as simple as littering. They would give you a ticket for littering: ‘You left your nigger hanging here, come on and cut him down.’ They didn’t get you for murder; they went after you for littering. And so a lot of that was done behind people lying and saying, ‘He looked at me.’ Look at Emmett Till. That’s what brought it to the forefront, but there were so many more Emmett Tills before. Hollywood does not want to tell those stories because they’re so scared. For example, you’re in a meeting, and you’re talking about stuff, and there’s a phrase they use: ‘That’s not cultural.’ They’re really saying, ‘Whites won’t come to see it.’ But they couch it in such a way that makes it sound [like] they’re [talking] in a marketing sense. And my argument’s always, ‘Yes, whites will come to see it. Because whites are as curious about us as we have been about them for years.’
“But in Hollywood, one black movie serves for all of them. Like Spike Lee’s Miracle at St. Anna. Well, nobody takes into consideration that Spike Lee is not a good storyteller – he’s just not. I don’t mean that in a bad way. He’s like James Baldwin. I don’t know if you’ve read a lot of James Baldwin’s books, but Baldwin never finishes a book. Like The Fire Next Time; when I was in college I read that, and I was so angry. I’m still angry to this day that the book was not finished. Whereas Richard Wright completes a book. Wright tells rich stories about black people with their emotions, why they feel what they feel. Spike Lee doesn’t do that. He takes you deep enough to whet your appetite. But he doesn’t, after they advertise it, give you the main course. I don’t know if he’s scared, or what. Consequently, what then happens is that all blacks go, ‘Well, Spike Lee didn’t work, so he’s the guy we chose, so that means that you ain’t going to work.’ And that’s not fair. You should judge it on, ‘Is this a good story?’”
Manager “It’s hard to say. I don’t know what to attribute the lack of female directors to. It may have more to do with the beginning, and the entry point, rather than what happens once they’re here. I know there is a built-in deterrent to women filmmakers, and I don’t really understand why. There are so few. There is an affirmative action in place in our business. I’ve often heard the mandate that they want a female writer or director, or they want an African-American writer or director. I’ve never heard, ‘We want a white one or a male one.’ What people perceive to be the solution to the problem is the problem. Instead of looking for the right storyteller across the board, they’re looking for matches that are informed by things that are not ideal. But I do get that call: ‘I need a black writer,’ or ‘I need a woman writer.’ That’s unfortunately the way that it goes here. It seems like reverse racism. Under the guise of creating opportunities, you’re really acknowledging that only a black writer can write an urban movie; you’re by default acknowledging that only white writers can write white movies. Unfortunately, the busy economics of the business have them telling more white male-driven stories. Because of that, there’s a lack of opportunities for women and minorities.”
Executive “The television industry is much more homogenous than the film industry. And someone needs to talk about it. Look at who’s coming up in the rank and file. There’s no one, when it comes to executives and when it comes to writers. Why’s Shonda Rhimes such a big story? Because she’s one of two thousand writers in the Guild that are working, that are showrunner level. I love the way agents pitch black writers in their cover letters… They’re always ‘urban writers,’ even if they grew up in suburbia. It’s so insulting.”
Director “An African-American executive was interested in doing a project with an African-American writer and an African-American director. She mentioned the project to her boss. She and her boss proceeded to get on a conference call with the African-American director’s agent. The agent answered the phone with such zest, she began talking prior to letting the agent know that there was somebody else on the phone, and proceeded to talk about a high-profile project at the studio, and then he went into mentioning the African-American project and said, ‘We’re not even worried about nigger films.’ Shortly thereafter, the African-American executive resigned. There’s so much racism going on that we’re just used to it. It’s hard to pick out a moment when you’re not discriminated against.”
Agent “I find that minorities are usually the last hired and the first fired in TV. At the staff level, you’ll try to sell a writer, try to sell a writer, try to sell a writer, and you’ll be told as an agent, ‘Well, if we’re going to hire anyone at that level, we’re going to hire one of the diversity writers.’ So if you’re a young white guy, it’s not happening. Now, do I feel sorry for that young white guy? Well, they’ve ruled Hollywood forever. So, all right, you push, push, push, push. But the diversity writer will wind up working at a deficit most of the time because the other staff will have been hired, and the diversity hire will be the person they bring on much later. So not only do they walk in with a brown or black face, or Asian eyes, so they look different, but when they walk in three weeks later, it’s stamped all over them: You’re brought in because you’re an affirmative-action hire. It becomes a little difficult. Then, when the twenty weeks run out, many of them haven’t had the opportunity to write a script because a staff writer’s job is to provide ideas, and they don’t give a script to that person. So when their twenty weeks are out, they’re let go, and then their resume has one staff job that lasted twenty weeks, and then they can’t get rehired. As opposed to having them write a script and giving them a shot to prove themselves. It’s fucked up. All staff writers should be submitted with a number, and then they’re read, and then they’re met with. Really, how people are getting into the TV business now is they’re becoming writers’ assistants, so they do that boot camp and they suck up – sometimes literally – to that show runner. CAA has ten writers’ assistants they represent in the hopes they get on staff. I’ve been successful with my minority directors. I don’t sell them as minorities. I actually won’t let them meet on one of those programs. I see more African-American directors in the television ranks and on white shows. I imagine if a black writer wrote an action piece, I don’t think they’d stop them. It’s just after everyone knows you, they think you have to write black films only.
“I do think it does take more time for women directors’ careers to take off. I have been more able to launch a white guy than I have been able to launch a female. It does make me more wary [of taking] on a female director, just because they’re harder to launch. They don’t get the opportunities.”
Screenwriter “Absolutely it exists. I started in TV. It was hard because I used to work at BET. From there, I got a writing job on a black show. Just starting in television, and after that show, you’d think you could get on any show. But I couldn’t. I was at this agency, and my agent quit. So they put me with two other agents, and when the show got canceled, they basically said, ‘Well, it’s hard to sell you.” I said, ‘Do you mean the writing?’ They were like, ‘There’re just not a lot of spots for minority writers.’ They just made it sound like it was almost an impossible task to get on another show if it was not a black show. After that, I got on a show because I had some friends. I got another agent, and it was more or less like you go from black show to black show to black show, because you felt like you weren’t allowed to be on the white shows. They just weren’t seeing you.
“Even when taking some of these meetings, like pitch meetings, they all expect you to come in with the whole urban take. If it’s not an urban show, their faces just turn off, if you pitch anything that’s a little diverse other than: ‘It’s about this black girl, she’s in the ’hood.’ But if you come from somewhere different, it turns into, ‘Well, it was nice meeting you.’ I’ve had a couple of those, but overall it’s definitely there. It’s prevalent. You feel it when you walk into those meetings.”
Agent “There’s definitely a boy’s club element to Hollywood. There’s sort of that freewheeling, gunslingin’, Entourage-y, highflyin’ thing that sometimes dominates a certain aspect of it. But I also believe that it reflects society as a whole. Look at the election. This is the first time there was a woman and an African American running for president. There’re some really incredibly talented working African-American directors, but is there a Spielberg amongst them? Not yet, but there will be. The same thing will happen for female directors. For the most part, Hollywood reflects the transformation of what’s going on in our country. Women have really, really struggled to get to where they are in our country, and they are really, really far and few in between. Same with African Americans. So it’s a larger cultural thing, and not specific to Hollywood.”
Entertainment Lawyer “Twilight had a female director. Fantastic Four had Tim Story, an African-American director directing a major franchise. It happens in miniscule numbers and disproportionately not in favor of women and African Americans. It’s slightly more possible than it was ten years ago. But the argument is the numbers are still embarrassing because they don’t reflect the contributions that women and African Americans make or the makeup of the audience. It’s still the gatekeepers, who, for whatever reason, have bought into the philosophy that African American doesn’t travel foreign. African-American film, that is. When African-American music and African-American culture is traveling foreign – seems like every other medium [succeeds] except for film. Well, why is that? A lot of times it’s the buyer. If you have the same system that hasn’t changed in the way that it does business, you don’t have people who are willing to help make or change or even see new markets because they’re still betting and holding onto their fiefdoms in their old markets… [They’re] the Bernie Maddoffs of the Hollywood business. He got away because he was a gatekeeper and as a gatekeeper he did whatever he wanted, however he wanted. The rules didn’t apply. Hollywood is still its own little world. The distribution system internationally is still the same gatekeepers of the last thirty, forty, fifty years. While our filmmakers have changed, the gatekeepers of the distribution system have not changed and, as a result, they still dictate what is shown and what advance monies will be put up for certain content, and that dictates a lot of the content.
“As the motion-picture box office shrinks and the television broadcast network stranglehold on the audience shrinks, and as we increase mobile video and Internet video and broadband increases, more voices are going to get in through the new mediums that will serve as an entry for women and people of color to show what they can do. Will that translate into them being tapped to direct a tentpole? Maybe not right away. Again, to get in the game and to show your talent and show what you’re capable of doing so that one thing can lead to another is at least better than never getting into the game.”
Director “Nobody has sort of blatantly been racist to me in the room. I’m a big African-American male who’s known to have a volatile sort of disposition, so people don’t really tend to do that shit to me in the room because I’ll punch a motherfucker out. People have said shit to me that I consider racist – not really racist, but you know the way they value the picture… ‘Black films have no foreign value, they’re only good for this amount.’
“You try to get done what you can, but what you sort of have to remember is that even people like Will Smith or Denzel Washington fought tremendously hard to get to where they’re at. You’ve got to remember, there’s only one of them, and there’s millions of us, so they do what they can. Like The Secret Life of Bees. They were instrumentally involved in that picture getting made. But name another movie this year where you have four black women in it. There ain’t even any other pictures made with four black men in it. Well, Miracle at St. Anna. OK? That’s not the way it works. They make whatever becomes hot. The problem is getting someone to take a chance. Back when they did Boyz n the Hood, they kept wanting to make that type of picture. Now that Tyler Perry is doing these other types of pictures that are garnering money, they only make that type of picture. It’s the same as the old sort of argument. Is Hollywood racist? Absolutely. Can I point to any one specific thing? No. It’s societal. It’s so ingrained in the fabric of it that you can’t really put your finger on it. Do they limit the budgets of African-American pictures? Absolutely. You almost start at a disadvantage.”
Manager “Black people are steered toward, and are more likely to be hired for, projects that have some black content. I will have an easier time getting an African-American director a job dealing with a subject that is relevant to black culture because [the buyers] want to hire somebody that is of the race covered by that subject. Is it harder to get them a job dealing with subject matter that isn’t black? The answer is generally yes. So that would be the racist aspect, but it depends on the director. Here’s the theory: If you’re going to get black writers and directors jobs that deal with black content, then it’s going to be harder for them to cross over to larger mainstream fare. It’s just a harder career path. That’s not to say they can’t, and they do. But they have to have a giant hit to move over to the white material, if you will. Is race an issue? Not really. It plays a factor. If a Jewish kid made a tiny movie that was a hit that was a comedy with black people in it, then the next movie they’d let him make could be a comedy with white people in it. And they’d probably do the same thing with the black director if it crossed over. Race places a factor in everything in life, but it’s not a determining factor. If anything, people in Hollywood go out of their way not to be racist. If I’m black, and I went to Harvard, I have a better shot than a white guy to direct Soul Train, but I may not get the job directing the Biggie Smalls movie because my work isn’t tough enough, or my perception isn’t that I’m ghetto. There’s a cultural bias, but it can easily be overcome by success. Is Antoine Fuqua a black director, or is he a director? He’s a director, period.
“Is it racist to look in the pool of African-American directors for a movie that may deal with the African-American experience? It’s helpful to have some experience, some knowledge of the world. Hollywood does tend to push people into niches, but the consequences of those niches are harder to get out of.”
Agent “There is a weird thing with minorities. It also speaks to: Are there enough minority writers writing in genres outside of the niche genres? Of course, what happens is, every movie that is written for the African-American market is written by an African-American writer. Somehow there aren’t enough African-American writers who are writing in the other genres. I don’t know why. Certainly, [Grey’s Anatomy creator] Shonda Rhimes is an exception, and I don’t know if we can call her a sign of change or just a great anomaly we can all point to. In television, it’s a lot easier for women, not for minorities. The networks create these diversity programs, which I don’t think are effective. That’s a problem because it does become the token minority writer on staff. I don’t know that these writers rise beyond that, but I do know that there is a certain categorization that seems unfair. On the movie side, they make a certain kind of movie, and the writers who break through are usually the kind of writer who writes a certain kind of movie. Each studio makes their six big movies, and that’s all they care about in a real way. Hillary Seitz is a female writer who writes those things, and she works all the time.”
Entertainment Lawyer “Hollywood still has a difficult time taking risk, exploring product beyond the set paradigm that they’re used to. A lot of times, if they’re going to take any risk, it’s going to be with the smaller or medium-size film, not a big tentpole. Within the last couple of years, with the combination of the shrinking number of films that are being made by the majors as well as many of them publicly articulating that they are going to abandon many of the smaller and medium-size films because of their overhead and their model and focus on bigger and bigger tentpoles to try to generate a billion dollars worldwide instead of $300 million for a great arthouse film or a smaller film, the minorities and women get squeezed out. They’re not going to take the risk at that level to even explore a great woman’s story that might appeal to a broad cross section of women. Their little formulas and statistics, however they come up with them, still suggest women can’t support the film as much as the young, white male. Same thing with African Americans. The studios are still terrified to go beyond the standard comedies or the standard shoot-’em-up urban films, both of which are very, very niche films as opposed to a broader market film that might include women and African Americans that could appeal to a larger cross section of America. They’re just not looking for those kinds of stories. As a result, there are fewer places to make those films. The indie labels aren’t making the number of films they did before. We’re down to three real brands: Miramax, Fox Searchlight and Focus. So, as a result, there are just fewer outlets for mainstream Hollywood to get product out.”
Director “The business is racist in general. Everybody. Even people who don’t think they’re racist are racist. You’re always perceived by the color of your skin. You’re called in for the black projects, you only get considered for black projects. I guess that’s better than the old-school racism; at least you’ve got black people working on black projects.
“One of the conversations that I’ve been having is that the business of Hollywood is so morally corrupt that you come to accept it. And the conduct of those people becomes the norm. That’s the same way with racism: [it becomes] the norm. So if you’re in this business for fifteen minutes, you soon realize that and adjust based on it, subconsciously. You want to just say, ‘This is the craziest shit on the fucking planet.’ Even in regards to BET. They conduct their business bad, and you sort of hit a cliché as a way of how African Americans conduct business. Then you have a company like that, which subscribes to the cliché. Shocking? It’s real.
“Then you hear people who are supposed to be liberals subscribing to the ‘audacity of hope’ that Obama represents. They’re saying, ‘This is the way that it’s supposed to be.’ But I don’t see anybody in Hollywood really going out and implementing any of this high-mindedness. Obama becomes president, and they’re going to be like, ‘Everything is hunky-dory. We don’t have to make black films.’ So Obama’s got to be twenty times better than his opponent to be president, and that’s the way it is with African Americans in the film business. You can’t just be good; [if] you make one motherfucking mistake, it’s over. One bad movie, it’s a fucking wrap. [With] white guys, I’ve seen a motherfucker turn out one ill-ass film after another, have one fucking credit and a studio deal. Are you out of your fucking mind?”
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