Blacks-Only Cinema

The other day, I fired up the ol’ Netflix streaming and started watching Luther, a British psychological crime drama starring Idris Elba. Elba was nominated last year for Best Actor in a Miniseries or Television Film for his work in Luther and I’ve heard pretty good things about it in general. So far, I’m hooked. It’s only been on for one season, but if you haven’t seen it, I suggest that you do.

In the midst of reading some internet reviews of the series, I saw some news that puzzled me. Tyler Perry is apparently replacing Idris Elba as the lead in a reboot of the Alex Cross movies. That’s right, I didn’t get the order of the names mixed up. Madea is replacing Stringer. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. For those of you who don’t know, Alex Cross is a detective and protagonist of a series of novels by James Patterson. No disrespect to Perry’s acting chops, but based on both his and Elba’s past work alone, this doesn’t make sense to me. He could very well shock a lot of us on some “Heath Leger as The Joker” type steez, but I wouldn’t put my money on it, especially since the director is Rob Cohen, who’s biggest successes are The Fast and The Furious and xXx. “You know you done fucked up now. You know that right?”

This of course got me thinking of what other black actors could portray Alex Cross? The last two Alex Cross movies, Kiss The Girls and Along Came A Spider, had Morgan Freeman as the lead, but he’s obviously way too old to play this role again. I rolled through the list of prominent black actors who I thought could play a detective in a crime drama: Denzel Washington, Will Smith, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle, Lawrence Fishburne, Forest Whitaker, Jamie Foxx. But when you’re doing a reboot of what you hope will be a franchise, you want younger actors. So what about the following actors that could have played the part as well: Anthony Mackie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nate Parker, Columbus Short, Laz Alonso, and Derek Luke just to name a few. These are very promising black actors who have shown their talent, but still haven’t seemed to make themselves household names. Even Idris Elba isn’t as well-known as we think he is. While it would be easy for me to describe Hollywood’s propensity to not take risks on non-white lead roles as racist, it seems more likely that their greed chooses to follow the natural racial segregation of our society.

A recent study by Andrew Weaver of the Indiana University Department of Telecommunications showed that “white participants were more interested in seeing films with white actors than films with black actors.” Weaver took 68 white undergraduates and made webpages for 12 fake romantic comedies with different percentages of white and black cast members. His results showed that the more black actors were cast, the less interested the white participants were in seeing it. In a follow up study where Weaver surveyed 150 white people between the ages of 18 and 69 that is yet to be published, the results were supposedly the same. The participants’ racial attitudes and actors’ relative celebrity didn’t have an effect. We’ve seen this happen recently with one of the biggest black actors of all time in Will Smith. The actor has admitted that race played a role in the casting of his love interest in Hitch. Studio execs were worried that a black leading couple would turn off audiences while a white love interest might offend US viewers. According to Weaver’s study, the execs were right. Even with Will Smith, a box office gold mine, the studio still saw it as a risk to team him up with a black love interest. Having said that, I would love to see this study done with participants of other races and compare the results.

Now, do I think that these results show that racial prejudice still exists in this country? Possibly. Do I think that these results could also be explained by the notion that people of any race flock to social groups and settings that they’re used to and often times end up racially segregating themselves in the process? Yes. Regardless, so long as audiences continue to believe that the intended audience for movies is determined by the race of the cast, studios will continue to not take many chances on young black actors and actresses in leading roles.

-TDA

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12 thoughts on “Blacks-Only Cinema

  1. This is real sad TDA. I know there are tons of young black actors with chops who never get their shot. The Perry for Idris swap puzzled me too. I just don’t understand the logic behind it but then again I don’t make films. I love discovering new and old black acting talent when I watch films.

    I still want a drama with black folks on TV. Why must we always get regulated to comedies doing typically “black” ish? It was a poop sammich of a show but I wanted Undercovers to work for reasons that didn’t involve Gugu Mbatha-Raw.

    Good post Hoss.

    • I thought the Perry for Idris swap was a “who can we make more money off of?” thing, even though I’d assume Idris is more known oversees. Maybe not? I don’t know how well Madea movies do in other countries.

      Undercovers was a blow. I never got to watch it cause I had a late class when it came on, but it’s stuff like that why studios don’t take chances on black leads in dramas. They’re not making money.

  2. Man, my mom was hoooooooooooot when she found out they were casting Tyler Perry as Alex Cross. Me and her are both avid readers of James Patterson’s novels, particularly the Alex Cross series.

    Sadly, im not surprised about the movie stats regarding non-whites viewing movies with black casts and subsequently black actors not being cast in leading roles.

    • Thanks for the comment!

      Yeah, I really don’t get casting Perry in that role, especially when there are plenty of other actors who seem better suited for the role. I’m sure they see Perry as more marketable than other actors. It’s all about the guap.

      The results of the study weren’t surprising to me either. If the study was done with black participants, I’d expect to see them feel more connected to the movies with a black cast than a white cast, which is why I wouldn’t classify it as a racist thing, but more of a comfort thing.

  3. Even with Will Smith, a box office gold mine, the studio still saw it as a risk to team him up with a black love interest.

    though i never had any proof til now, i knew this was the reason!!! even in the superhero flick, Hancock, he didnt have a black co-star either. i think we (black folk) are used to this kinda thing in big blockbusters–there arent going to be a TON of black actors, just ONE, maybe two.

    that said, idk why Perry replaced Elba. theres a very clear distinction between their appearance and acting styles that there had to have been a reason to want the Perry type instead. it also, im sure, has a lot to do with Perry’s star power and connections that may help this series become HUGE. you may not like Madea or the Madea brand, but Perry is a good actor and i think he’ll do just fine in a detective role.

    that said, i do want to see more black film producers and directors get their shot because ultimately they’ll be the ones to be able to give more black actors jobs. we cant help that white audiences are less likely to want to see us on film, but we as brown ppl can do our best to support black movies and black actors. every little bit helps.

    great post

    • I don’t doubt that Perry’s marketability played a huge part in his casting, but I’m still skeptical on his ability to play this role convincingly or more convincingly than lesser-known actors who would shine in a role like this. I’d love for him to surprise me though.

      You bring up a good point. Black film producers, directors, and writers need to be invested in. It ultimately falls back on our (black people) ability to support our own. The studios are just chasing the money.

  4. I watched the Luther series on BBC and loved it. I can’t wait for next season. I am not surprised by the attitudes of people and the way that they react to casting in movies. People want to pay their money to be comfortable and live in a fantasy. Why do you think that Will Smith never got to kiss Charlize Theron in Hancock? 2008 and she was supposed to be his bonded soulmate for LIFE. Yeah..OK?

    • Yes, Luther is a really good show. Next season will be weird cause they’re making two 2-hour episodes. It’ll be interesting to see the series play out more like a movie.

      “People want to pay their money to be comfortable and live in a fantasy.”

      Truth.

  5. All I can say for the TP/IE swap is *sigh*.

    I’m glad to hear that you and RedLady are on the Luther bandwagon though, not that I’m surprised as it seems you (TDA) and I are one when it comes to television. That’s two more people to discuss with next season.

  6. Luther is a great show.

    Tyler Perry replacing Idris?! You can’t be serious. That doesn’t make much sense at all…at least not to me.

    Interesting post.

    Feel free to swing by and check out my blog…or not. It’s your choice.

    JSin (up4dsn.wordpress.com)

  7. *record scratch…wait..WHAT!?!?!?!?!

    i used to be an avid reader of the cross series books, and saw both movies when morgan played alex. im presuming that tp had beef with idris calling him out??

    i will not, cannot, in a box or with a fox support this move if that is the case. a man that dresses up as a woman i cannot take seriously.

    ugh. *kicks something..

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