At a recent Sundance press conference for his upcoming film Experimenter, John Leguizamo poignantly reflected on his struggle to break out of the Latino drug dealer stereotype Hollywood has made so profitable over the years. From the looks of things, Wynona Rider was left speechless (until she kinda rudely started whispering something while Leguizamo was mid-diatribe). I guess it’s not easy to face the fact that every white actor ever has benefitted in some way from white privilege.
That’s not to say that Wynona Rider isn’t talented, of course, but let’s face it: she’s never had to compete with the hundreds of actors of color who could just as easily do her job. Unfortunately, the reality in Hollywood is that, unless you’re a pretty white female, or any sort of white male (John C. Reilly, anyone?), you’re probably not getting the lead. In fact, they’re not even going to let you through the door at the casting call. You get to be a goofy sidekick, a strung-out dope addict, a terrorist, or any range of two-dimensional plot devices designed to move the story from point A to point B. Or you’re Will Smith.
For decades, Hollywood has explained this phenomenon away with the numbers game: “percentages”, “return-on-investment”, “blah, blah, blah”, “white folks can’t identify with actors of color, but people of color have to suck it up and identify with white folks.” We’ve heard it all before. But unsurprisingly, the dinosaurs (or are they Marvel superheroes?) in the corner offices at the major studios have yet to wake up to the fact that all of this is effectively irrelevant in the 21st century U.S. of A.
A new video campaign from the folks at the all-powerful clickbait think tank, Upworthy, gives a voice to the artistically marginalized actors in our midst and calls our attention the the absurdity of Hollywood’s de facto audiovisual apartheid. Featuring actors of all shades and ethnic origins, we get a quick glimpse into the real life of that one guy who went “I don’ even know watchoo talkin’ bout, man!”, despite his impeccable, conservatory-trained American Standard accent. Or brilliant, timeless directing techniques like, “A little more ratchet!” or, “You’re getting ethnic. Don’t be afraid. Go with it!”
Yet, with only 30,000 or so views at the time of publication, it seems the endless struggle of actors of color isn’t nearly as interesting as a cat video. Even so, take three minutes and give these clips a look. And remember: there’s still plenty to fight for in our ever-imperfect, 21st century world.