Obsession of White Hollywood

April 18, 2024

Graphic by Caroline Clark

Observing the media slowly peeling the onions of race in the US, exploring them almost for entertainment.

Have you seen “American Fiction” (2023)? It was nominated for 41 awards this season, including 5 Academy Awards, so it’s worth (at least) a trailer watch.

The movie follows a Black author who is, more or less, failing in his career. But that didn’t make sense because Black authors were gaining popularity at the time when they illustrated their “lives.” Those authors write about exaggerated Black stories that you would see in movies or what ignorant people think happens in the lives of every Black person. As a joke, the author writes and publishes a fake story about a gangster and says it’s true and his life. The book skyrockets.

This movie is hilarious, but it is a piece of social commentary. It is like no one wants POC representation if it isn’t exaggerated and fits into one’s preconceived perception.

Let me explain.

There was a period when the media and the movies that were the most critically acclaimed and award-winning were telling and advertising Black stories and cinematography. The era where all they highlighted were well-made Black stories or Black-heavy casts like “Get Out” (2017), “Moonlight” (2016), and “Black Panther” (2018).

I loved these movies, because they felt like genuine representations. It feels like Hollywood has run out of its common tropes like underdogs winning, enemies falling in love, action-packed adrenaline-inducing storylines, etc. They need a new market, and cultures divided by race and reliability in America are a rising interest for Hollywood for this very reason.

Then, there was (and still is) a focus and recognition for the art of media telling East Asian stories and cinematography. It is the same thing with “Everything Everywhere All At Once” (2022), “Beef” (2023), and the rise of fandom in Korean and Chinese media in the United States.

The mass-white Hollywood and media are slowly peeling the onions of race in the U.S., exploring them almost for entertainment. Part of it feels disingenuous, but do we, as the explored races, dislike it?

No, because it is the only proper (or attempted) representation that currently exists on TV.

I felt the same about “Bridgerton” season two (2022). The season was great for bringing this new appreciation for Brown/South Asian beauty in America/White Hollywood. Simone Ashley, the female lead of season two, was portrayed as a gorgeous woman with her darker brown skin, embracing South Asian beauty, which is rarely done unless they could pass for a different ethnic background. But, it has so many discrepancies in language and cultural references. For example, they mixed multiple languages from India into one, using different words for familial terms like father, mother, and sister. They went to all the trouble of getting a proper cast with accurate ethnic backgrounds but couldn’t even ask them to check or do their own research about basic cultural identifiers like language. However, I wasn’t mad more than I was grateful for some sort of representation on screen.

Award shows fuel the idea of flaunting productions focused on race to increase interest and views. The majority of their voting board is white — whether it be the Oscars, the Golden Globes, or even the Grammys. Hollywood and America has been dominated by majority white casts and crews since the beginning, so it makes sense that many voting boards are made up of old producers and cast. But now, voting boards don’t have to look like this.

They view everything through their own eyes and own experiences. On top of that, they have requirements for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, where they basically have quotas on nominations, but not wins.

The whole award scene is warped to ensure that even the movies they promote and advertise don’t win what they were nominated for, while pushing a project’s actors into fame. A clear South Asian example is Dev Patel in “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008). He was set to be a big star in Hollywood, but sadly, he has been in limited roles since. Even in the most recent award season, “Past Lives” (2023) has been nominated for three BAFTAs, three Critics Choice Awards, three Gotham Awards, and five Golden Globes but has only won one award. This movie has been shown off and featured by so many production houses, and during its press tour, it gained so much recognition from the media. Some, including me, feel as though the movie was robbed, and the representation of East Asians was flaunted instead of being represented and awarded properly.

But I digress. The future of Hollywood will have POC stories because of their sheer popularity. Big production companies aren’t blind to the numbers at the box office. Hopefully, over the next decade, POC-centered movies will stop dancing the line of trend versus representation, and we won’t stick with the same actors/actresses for those characters for representation. (I love you, Michelle Yeoh, but I need to see more Asian women on my TV instead of just you in every Asian mom role.)

I hope we grow from this point, but a small part of me fears that we may be regressing. In my mind, the next wave of race stories will flip in the opposite direction. I believe that future films will be centered around European immigrants. There is a new wave of immigrants coming from Europe, meaning there are new stories to share and tell on screen. I’m excited for the representation for them, but there are so many other groups in America who have little to no representation, that I wish it were centered around someone else.

What next race will be the white Hollywood’s next obsession? ■  

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