While Hollywood has been going through a rough time due to the pandemic, one of the most popular topics has been the relationship between African-Americans and Hollywood stars. When it comes to the topic of African-Americans and Hollywood, there are two popular myths that tend to arise. The first is that Hollywood is full of racist stereotypes and the second is that there is some sort of “Negro problem” at Hollywood studios. While there is truth to both of these claims, it is certainly not the whole truth. The truth is more complex.
There’s No Place for Racism in Hollywood
Due to the fact that the entertainment industry is such a large part of American culture, it’s no secret that there is a lot of crossover between the two. It wouldn’t be unusual for an African-American to work in Hollywood or for an actor to have an interest in moviemaking. However, in today’s world, there is certainly no place for racism. While there are definitely racist attitudes and opinions present in Hollywood, the general population is also aware of this and takes steps to ensure that no one feels ostracized or discriminated against based on their race or ethnicity. Even in the most informal of settings, people are careful to not say the “n” word or make any kind of racist statement. This is something that most people take for granted but it does require a bit of introspection on the part of those in the industry seeking to change it.
Why Do People Think There’s a ‘Negro Problem’ at Hollywood?
The phrase “Negro problem” was first used in the 1950s in reference to African-Americans and the entertainment industry. At the time, African-American entertainers were demanding better working conditions and more favorable treatment by the Hollywood studios. One of the first and most prominent stars to speak out about the “Negro problem” was Lena Horne. In an interview with Billboard, she blamed the Hollywood studios for the “discriminatory practices” that they were subjecting African-American entertainers to. Horne went on to compare the treatment of African-Americans in Hollywood to that of Jews in Nazi Germany. At the time, many people either didn’t see the comparison or didn’t agree with it. Even now, some people may find it slightly distasteful but the fact remains that it was a bold comparison and one that certainly had some truth to it. It wasn’t until much later that the phrase fell out of popularity. Today, “Negro problem” is used far more in jest than anything else.
Is Hollywood Full of Stereotypes?
While most people in Hollywood may not be full of stereotypes when it comes to black people, it’s a different story when it comes to other ethnic groups. For example, when you think of Italian Americans, you may immediately think of wise guys, gangsters, and mafias. The same can certainly be said of Jewish people with the exception that you also need to think about Hollywood films from the 1930s through the 1950s to get a clear picture of what an Italian American or Jewish person may look like. Today, many people in Hollywood are very proud of their mixed ethnicity and do not mind speaking out about how it influences their work. They don’t see it as a problem but rather an asset. As for the other types of stereotypes, there is no question that they are present in Hollywood. It would be impossible to list all of the common stereotypes that people of Italian descent may encounter as a result of their ethnicity but the same can be said of other groups. When it comes to Japanese-Americans, you may think of karate experts, ninja, and sumo wrestlers. Whenever there is a movie with a predominantly white cast, you can bet that there will be at least a few caricatures of black people in there somewhere.
Why Are People Suddenly Interested in African-Americans and Hollywood?
Prior to the 2020s, people were much less likely to associate African-Americans with Hollywood. Sure, there were a few famous African-American entertainers in the industry but for the most part, they worked as domestics or in strip clubs. This is not to say that there weren’t any prominent African-American actors working in films prior to the 1960s but they were generally seen as supporting roles or bit parts. As the civil rights movement picked up steam and laws were changed to make things more equal, people began looking at the entertainment industry in a different light. The #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements also had an impact. In 2018, there were more African-Americans working in the entertainment industry than there had been in decades. The number of prominent African-Americans in the entertainment industry has skyrocketed in the last few years and it’s not hard to see why. They are dominating the headlines with the likes of Denzel Washington, Will Smith, and Michael B. Jordan holding a multitude of prestigious awards.
Is Hollywood Treating African-Americans Differently Than It Does Other Ethnicities?
When people think of African-Americans and Hollywood, they often automatically assume that the latter is discriminating against the former. This couldn’t be further from the truth. While there may be some situations where this is true (e.g. when it comes to hiring or promoting people of color), it is certainly not the case every time. There are several reasons why Hollywood studios may be favoring certain ethnic groups over others. One of the most prominent is that the people in charge at the studios see a certain type of character or personality that fits better with their vision. One of the most prominent examples of this is the transformation of Hans Zimmer, an elderly German Jew, into a tough, Brooklyn-born, African-American war fighter named Hans “Trump” Zimmborn during the Second World War in the 1980 movie “Empire”. While this may be an extreme example, it does illustrate the point that ethnicity doesn’t always determine character. Another reason may be that the people in charge at the studio want to achieve a certain demographic. For example, people who watched the Oscars this year may have noticed that most of the awards went to films with black leads. While this may be an accurate statement, it doesn’t mean that films with white leads didn’t receive any recognition. It simply means that most of the films that were heavily involved with, or focused on, African-Americans this year were successful because a lot of those people went to the theaters to see them. This is one of the reasons why many people in the industry are embracing their ethnicity. They feel that it’s what’s best for their career and it’s certainly not a bad thing. As long as everyone is comfortable with who they are and what they represent, then that’s all that matters.
While it’s not always easy to accept the fact that your favorite actor, singer, or sports figure is in fact, of your same ethnicity, it’s important to recognize the huge influence that this may have on your life. Many people in the African-American community feel a connection to, and pride in seeing themselves portrayed by, prominent Hollywood stars. Even if you don’t necessarily identify as “black,” there is still plenty to celebrate in seeing people like Denzel and Will on the big screen. These are two very prominent and successful men who have broken many of the stereotypes that people had about African-Americans. Seeing people like Denzel Washington and Will Smith succeed in Hollywood is proof that there is no “Negro problem” in the entertainment industry. As for the other types of stereotypes, it’s important to remember that they don’t represent the whole community and that they don’t hold back anyone. Just because some people in Hollywood may fit, or be limited by, these stereotypes doesn’t mean that they do and it certainly doesn’t mean that they should. It’s funny how quickly things can change in society when you take a stand against racism and stereotypes. Just look at how much attention the black community is getting right now and how much respect these celebrities are being given. This may very well be a sign that Hollywood is finally accepting, and respecting, its African-American community.