The Oscars Whiteout is Driven by Racism – and Greed
By Zoe Williams
In Hollywood, the relevance is the distinction between a black actor being chosen for a film like 12 Years a Slave, where his race is critical to the plot, and a black actor being cast in any given supporting role, as a result of the business decision that white actors are more bankable and have to be cast as the lead. This is manifestly more pernicious than hiring a Latin-American tele-marketer to serve racially profiled customers. It creates a set of cultural expectations in which, defying the evidence of our own five senses, we accept that the black half of any given duo is less likely to get the girl, more likely to be killed in a comical or tragic accident, less likely to say something deep or droll, more likely to have been disposed of by the end of the film.
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Bluntly, one race is cast in a supporting and therefore subservient role to the other, and this is oppressive in a way that all the representation in the world couldn’t address. You could have 20 black actors in a film all playing valets, and you would merely underline an idea of white superiority.
It has been observed often that mainstream cinema is becoming more sexist, with less use for anything other than the decorative female, and the erudite heroines of the 30s and 40s as alien to us now as mime artists or smoking babies. The root cause is the same; a cultural form this profit-driven will always cleave to the norm. Even as the wider culture changes, begins to accommodate arguments, recognises its flaws, these advances cannot percolate when the commercial interest is so fixed. This is not to say that challenging expectations could never make a profit. The idea that a black actor could be more bankable than a white one, or an intelligent heroine may actually attract audiences is simply not tested: challenge is a risk and, as such, a needless cost.