FILM AND TELEVISION
Last week we kicked off the discussion of racism in entertainment by explaining the worst racism seen on and off the sporting field. Now we’ll explore the racism seen in film and television. Forms of entertainment have long been used to reflect current social commentaries. The novel-turned-film, To Kill A Mockingbird, looked at the racial inequalities around the time of its release in 1960. It has been suggested that the novel was shaped by issues arising in Alabama around this time, the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 as a result of Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a bus and the 1956 race riots due to admittance of the first African American student into the University of Alabama.
Fortunately, Hollywood and the entertainment industry in general have for the most part, moved passed the days of films such as The Birth of a Nation, which showcased white actors in blackface in lieu of black actors. The film depicts the lynching of black people and racism in general as positive and was credited at the time with helping to revive the KKK.
However, although today’s films and TV shows seem to be more progressive in respecting all races – with directors such as Steve McQueen (African American) and Alfonso Cuaron (Mexican) winning Academy Awards for their respective films, 12 Years A Slave and Gravity and actors such as Miranda Tapsell (Indigenous) winning awards for her roles in Love Child and The Sapphires, the use of stereotypes in films are still too often used as a form of entertainment.
Hispanics often play the characters of maids or gardeners such as Jennifer Lopez’s character in the aptly titled, Maid in Manhattan, or the character of Consuela in animated series, Family Guy. Furthermore, the appearance of the villain, who happens to be a Mexican wrestler named Eduardo in Despicable Me 2 is quoted in the Guardian as being, “fat, big-nosed, sentimental, and wears an open-necked shirt exposing a large medallion over his hairy-chest […] He runs a Mexican restaurant.” This is racial stereotyping gone too far.
Asian men in Hollywood are often seen as nerds who don’t play sport, but are great at mathematics, technology and are often seen as non-masculine. This was a comment on the TV Show 2 Broke Girls when talking about the short, workaholic manager, “You can’t tell an Asian he made a mistake. He’ll go in back and throw himself on a sword.”
African Americans are often depicted as vulgar, being physically violent (thugs) or lacking self-control. Often they are a supporting character to the white lead.
Key and Peele
Key and Peele was a very successful comedy TV series that provided an interesting commentary on the racial relations between blacks and whites in America. Their sketches include critiques on police brutality, slavery, an anger translator and opened themselves to racial sporting and political stereotypes.
In an article written by salon.com’s Katrina Richardson, she states, “This makes the black characters seem like fools and the result is a show that makes fun of blacks in a way white liberals will allow themselves to enjoy, under the guise of “talking about race”.
This is a strong statement about a show that aims to bring racial issues to the forefront. Is comedy allowing people to believe that racism in this form is acceptable? We all know racism is not joke and that humour should not be used for its justification. Why then is racism still permitted to flourish in film and television?
Here are a few examples from the show