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One Mo’ Time: Hollywood and Race

Red Tails isn’t my kind of picture (warriors; loud guns; noisy machinery), so I haven’t seen it. Years ago I didn’t go see Glory – about an all-black Civil War regiment – for the same reason; later I caught it on TV and loved it to death. Anyhow, while I can’t say anything much about Red Tails, now that I’ve heard it’s immersed in controversy, I want to jump into the fray.

Racial controversy in Hollywood is a recurrent theme, one I’ve written about several times. I still haven’t gotten over my shock and anger that Hollywood failed to notice two of my favorite movies, The Five Heartbeats and Set It Off. I saw the latter when it came out on DVD, so I don’t know what the audiences were like – but I saw The Five Heartbeats in three different theaters, each time dragging white friends along to see it with all-black audiences. Both those movies were, in my opinion, absolutely fantastic, and I’ve seen each of them several times. They were at least as good as any in their genres: one the story of a rock ‘n’ roll group, the other of a bank heist. Neither was nominated for any Academy Awards. At the very least, Queen Latifah, a mere child at the time, deserved an Oscar for her performance as a bad-ass gun-toting lesbian.

The most recent film to cause a racial dustup, prior to Red Tails, is The Help. The book as well as the film drew the ire of black women, particularly those in academia,  for a multitude of alleged sins: they protested that a white woman shouldn’t tell black women’s stories to begin with; the film trivialized the lives of black domestic workers; it overlooked sexual harassment and civil rights activism; and in the end it’s really just a white woman’s coming-of-age story.

The Help –  and its black and white ensemble cast — is being showered with awards left and right. I for one am thrilled that two female movies (i.e.,chick flicks),The Help and Bridesmaids, are knocking them dead at the award ceremonies. Meanwhile, Viola Davis, who won the SAG award for best female actor, probably did more to integrate Hollywood than anyone when she named her two greatest inspirations: Cicely Tyson and Meryl Streep.