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Denzel and Crouching Tiger: Why Minority Representation Isn't As Important As You Think

By Deadline TK | Think Pieces | April 1, 2014 |

By Deadline TK | Think Pieces | April 1, 2014 |

It’s been said that representation of minorities in Hollywood is one of the film industry’s greatest problems. That year after year, it continues to be a struggle for actors of color to find roles that allow them to be something other than stereotype and caricature. Historically, this is likely accurate — one need look no further than some of the classics from the first half of the 20th century to see just how damaging and prevalent this kind of virulent racism and discrimination was. And that’s before we even get to talking about issues like “whitewashing” and “blackface,” and other egregious components of filmmaking in the last century.

And here we stand now, 15 years into a new century, and these complaints still ring loudly (particularly on the internet). Despite the fact that in the last six years, two black directors have been nominated. And that slave movie won best picture but two years ago! So the question remains — is minority representation still an issue? Or has Hollywood finally achieved post-racial status? Here are some additional facts before we begin the discussion in earnest:

Denzel Washington has been nominated for an Oscar four times. And he won once, too! And it’s not like he was just playing servants and slaves (a common complaint about blacks in Hollywood). He also played a drug-addicted crooked cop, a drug-addicted crooked airline pilot, and a boxer who gets sent to prison. And that convict thug fighter? Not even a drug addict!.

While we’re talking multiple nominees, Morgan Freeman? Also nominated four times. And again, these were legitimate roles. OK, one time he played a chauffeur. But the rest? He played Nelson Mandela in that movie about Matt Damon, people. Then, he also played that wise prisoner who helped Tim Robbins, and who can forget his performance as Ike Turner (ed. note: that was Laurence Fishburne).

And as for black women? They’ve been nominated for a bunch of stuff! Halle Berry won for the movie where she bangs Billy Bob Thornton! I mean hey, look at that — not only a black woman, but she gets to be with a white man, too. And if a movie about a black woman on welfare who abuses her son and has sex with the white man who executed her convict husband isn’t progress, well then I just don’t know what to tell you.

Let’s move on to Hispanic actors. You’ve got Antonio Banderas, George Lopez, and a whole mess of others. It’s not like Hispanics are lacking for representation. I’ll bet you didn’t even know that Freddie Prinze Jr. was part Puerto Rican, did you? Didn’t think so. And we haven’t even talked about Jennifer Lopez, who just recently bopped that nice white boy who gave her The Iliad.

But I also know that there’s more to the world than black people and Latinos. But let’s be honest — there is a ton of representation for Asian actors, too. Does anyone remember a not-so-little movie called Crouching Tiger, Hiding Dragon? I mean, if anything, white people should be upset at the fact that they never get cast in Kung Fu movies. Thank god we have brave actors like Adrian Brody and John Cusack, who are willing to branch out into the Asian markets and try to bring some diversity to what is, let’s be honest, a pretty clearly discriminatory industry. I dunno, maybe that’s just what Asia is like.

The point is, Hollywood is pretty diverse as it stands now. And all of this complaining about needing more diversity or — even more ridiculously — about how the Academy Awards don’t represent minorities well are just making things difficult. We need to see the trees for the forest, people. Or the jungle through the vines? I don’t know, I don’t do metaphysics. The point is, we’ve arrived. You’ve made it to the table, minorities. It’s time to stop whinging and carrying on as if you’re being oppressed every damn day. As that anonymous Academy voter said, do you people want to be known for your movies, or for stirring up shit?


TK Burton is an Editorial Consultant. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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