Before reading the following blog, please read the
part one (click) if you haven't already.
In the previous blog I established how insecurity plays into the decision making process for Hollywood Commercial Filmmaking. In this blog I will answer the question - How does this lead to stereotyping?
Because this is such a huge topic, I'm going to narrow down this discussion by focusing on the issue that Daniel's blog pointed to vicariously through KevJumba's YoutTube video which was about the casting of Justin Chatwin (a white actor) as Goku in Dragonball.
To understand the necessary steps to make something change, you need understand why something happens in the first place so that's where we are starting.
The question was asked in the comments of Daniel's blog and is asked often - why does Hollywood cast minorities in stereotyped roles?
But this question is making too large an assumption. This question assumes that a choice is being made and an action taken on that choice.
What if the real problem is the exact opposite? The problem is not that people are choosing to stereotype minorities, the problem is that they're not going out of their way to provide a myriad (variety) of characters of different ethnicity.
Very different things.
We need to take a quick side step and note something:
For a Hollywood mega film, they feature huge stars. There are many talented white actors who try and try to get lead roles in major films and can't because they're just not famous enough to carry a film. There are many incredibly talented actors of all kinds who are just not the right look despite being white as well.
So - irregardless of ethnicity - If you want to star in a Blockbuster, you need to be in that small pool of actors who can "carry a feature." How do you get there? Usually it happens with a cross-over artist from music or TV or someone who has had major supporting roles that made an impact and then managed to work the publicity into enough stardom that people felt he or she could carry a film.
(By the way, I said he "or she" - but a subject for another blog another day might be how the general assumption in the world is that female names do not carry a movie. It's something I totally disagree with but I can't tell you how many times I've heard this from distributors - including female distributors.)
"Cross-over" could be from music (Wil Smith into "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" then into movies) or from a certain genre (like someone who stared in Gangster movies of the 80's into a blockbuster genre). The key is this: What the decision makers care about is that this person has an enormous following. All they care about is this person will bring in enough fans to cover the marketing budget and the production budget. They want this person to be someone who magazines and radio and TV shows want to feature. If they have this, then they can justify their choice. They want this person to be someone who if the movie fails - they can justify their choice (see last blog).
So this is why Dragonball is such a perfect movie to show as an example.
Justin Chatwin is definitely not a no-name actor, but he isn't exactly Brad Pitt status. So what happened? In the voice over world - they ALWAYS cast people according to the ethnicity of the on-screen character and here in Dragonball live action, they made a huge exception and cast this out of ethnicity character. Let's figure out why.
I's actually pretty simple. They looked at the pool of Asian actors and decided that there was no Asian actor established who could justify to their superiors the choice of casting if the movie failed. And guess what? $45 million budget, $4.76 million opening weekend in the US. That means there is someone who is doing exactly that. "Well, he starred in War of the Worlds you know."
So - obviously this process of casting by insecurity doesn't work - but it will persist.
Now, please don't misunderstand and think I'm defending how the Hollywood machine works. I'm not really a part of it and it doesn't serve my purposes usually either. However, I did come to a realization that understanding it helps navigate the waters. I came to this realization mostly after I finally was able to take a bunch of meetings at various Hollywood studios and realized, "Wait - there are a lot of smart people here - what's going on? Where is the disconnect?" That was when I realized it was justification for failure which must be the culprit - because that's the culprit for MANY industries.
Personally, I think movies that make true and sincere choices are what audiences do now and have always responded to. If you look back at the movies that made an impact it was always this. I think movies that have unique personality and unique perspectives have continuously proven to be successful because sincerity is harder to find than a big explosion. I've seen too many big budget movies with huge stars fail to believe that one should assume that equates to box office security. But - that's just a personal aside - let's get back to the issue.
What I (and maybe you) "believe should be" doesn't affect "what is." And so if you want to make change, you have to operate in the world that is.
So - we know why this happens. What will it take to make this change?
And by "this" - I mean make a situation where Dragonball would have starred an Asian actor and it wouldn't have even been a question much like Independence Day starred Wil Smith and no one freaked out thinking "but... but... he's black." Why? because he was a world famous well liked hero star... he was perfect. He had a huge audience from years of work.
That's the thing. He'd crossed over from being a Rap star to being a sitcom star to being a serious actor. He brought his music audience with him enough to try out his TV show. it worked. He brought his TV show audience with him to the movies. There was never a real risk to try him out.
So the answer is to create a situation that there is no real risk. That means in order for the Dragonball movie to have starred an Asian actor, there would have had to have been the actor who was obviously perfect for the role and would bring an audience. (People, remember when I say "have to" - I'm talking about how the system works, not what I think.)
And this rule would apply across the board. No one wants to take a chance, they want to see something working and just repeat it bigger.
So - if i were in put in charge of strategizing this effort, my answer would be to look at the talent that exists and their existing audiences. I would then make cross-over movies that star these actors in the kinds of roles we think they should play in large block buster movies - but in this case keeping the budget to an amount that their audience could support. It might take a bunch of different films and a bunch of different actors to create a larger pool. But that's what has to happen.
However - these films can't just be any films - they have to be the kinds of movies that we want our actors to be seen in in larger blockbuster version. Therefore, these can't be martial arts films unless you want your actor to continue playing the martial arts star - but according to KevJumba, that's not what he wants.
And, even more, they can't be all Asian cast movies. this won't work. Why not?
Because it doesn't create a cross over star. It doesn't prove that he or she can carry a non-Asian film. Now - if that's not your goal, then it doesn't matter. But if you want to be creating cross-over stars, you need to prove to Hollywood that they will play cross-over and the only way to do that is by showing it on a successful movie. "See, this movie did well and it starred so and so who is Asian in a non-Asian film." Because the assumption will be, therefore, that the film was seen by more than just an Asian audience.
Hollywood has a vertical imagination, but not a horizontal one.
What I mean by this is that Hollywood can see a little tiny movie that did well and think "That $500,000 movie did great, let's do one like it for 50,000,000 and multiply the results!" That's vertical. That's how Hollywood thinks. "The same thing, but BIGGER."
Horizontal would be "Well, this actor is very well liked in that demographic, let's see how they play in all demographics" or "This actor is liked in action movies, let's see if he's liked in a comedy." That's Horizontal and that's not how Hollywood thinks.
Well, there you have it. This is a sensitive subject and I hope I've addressed the topic in a way that both made sense and was maybe even inspiring.
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