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Russell Simmons on Hollywood v. the Music Industry and Race v. Genre

By Alyssa Rosenberg  

"Russell Simmons on Hollywood v. the Music Industry and Race v. Genre"

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I’m not sure I agree with everything Russell Simmons has to say about the dullness and whiteness of this year’s Academy Awards, but I think he makes a good point about the fact that in music, singers are judged more by their genre and less by their race:

It’s a telling statistic that this year’s Grammy Awards drew in almost 40 million viewers, eclipsing the Oscar ratings for the first time in history. Why? Because music executives couldn’t segregate artists if they tried! The music industry gets it because they have no choice. My nephew Diggy and Justin Bieber may look different, but they are cut from the same cultural fabric and sell their records to the same fans. Katy Perry and Rihanna may appear dissimilar but have much more similarities than differences in the eyes of pop culture. Between the artists’ friendships/collaborations and basic consumer demand, the music industry has all the research it needs to know that segregating artists is not the way to sell records. Post-racial America has a face in the music of today, and thank God for that.

Obviously this is not entirely true—some genres, like hip-hop, are considered racially bounded, while others, like pop, are more permeable, both in terms of the race of the performers who can succeed within it and their absorption of elements from other genres. And I also think that hip-hop just has more black men in talent development positions, and they’ve been able to bring up a generation of both black and non-black performers behind them. Whether it’s Simmons vouching for Brett Ratner, Diddy’s long record as a producer, or Usher bringing up Justin Bieber, that’s a lot of black executives with greenlight power and undeniable track records. Until those same conditions in Hollywood (preferably in the form of someone other than Tyler Perry, who doesn’t seem interested in bringing up another generation of directors behind him), Hollywood’s unlikely to get more comfortable with people of color, or to start seeing actors in terms of their specialties rather than their race.

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