Hollywood’s Self-Imposed Racial Straightjacket

Gavin Polone just keeps getting more awesome:

Because black films are thought of as “niche,” they end up being marketed as if they are for only one group of people. Take Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds, which opens this Friday. It’s a drama about a wealthy black executive whose life changes when he gets to know a single mother in need of help. Marketing for the film seems overfocused on the African-American audience: You’ll see billboards in black neighborhoods and few in areas where white people live. And like Perry’s previous movies, it will probably get little play outside the U.S.: His Why Did I Get Married Too, which did $60 million at the domestic box office, was only released in South Africa and Crotia overseas, taking in just $578,120. But is Good Deeds any more “niche” than 2006’s The Pursuit of Happyness, a big domestic and international hit about a struggling black businessman who takes custody of his son when his wife leaves him? The main difference is that the latter stars Will Smith, so it is not thought of as “niche” and Columbia marketed it all over the world as a broad-based film. But keep in mind that Will Smith only became the star that he is because he was marketed early as a “star” — not a “black star” — and audiences accepted him as such. The egg has to come before the chicken and that means going for it with certain films and actors to break them out of their niche.

Will Smith is not magically different from all other black actors. He’s just marketed that way. And it’s a huge tragedy that nobody is as desperate to make David Oyelowo or Michael B. Jordan as they are to turn Sam Worthington and Channing Tatum from sides of beef into leading men. It does no one any honor or any good to suggest that a low-talent white man is more valuable than a talented black man.