Blacks in Hollywood: Shut Out or Missing in Action?

by Tamika Thompson

After Denzel Washington and Halle Berry won Oscars in 2002 for Training Day and Monster’s Ball respectively, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences seemed to have opened its Academy Awards to Black artists. Each year since Washington and Berry received the coveted statuette, Black artists have been nominated or have won in major categories. Jamie Foxx, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Hudson, Lee Daniels and Mo’Nique are several examples of recent Black recipients of the Oscar.

Whitaker: "We're not at a destination point..."

So in early 2011, when the Academy announced the nominees for its 83rd annual awards, there was an outcry when there were no Black artists on the list.

A piece in The New York Times entitled “Hollywood’s Whiteout” stated, “The consolidation of a black presence in the movies and television did not signal the arrival of a postracial Hollywood any more than the election of Barack Obama in 2008 spelled the end of America’s 400-year-old racial drama.”

Recent guests on the show have commented on this issue as well, raising a debate about whether Blacks are shut out of the film and television business or are not doing enough to make headway in the industry.

Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker, who won in 2007 for his portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, tells Tavis that Blacks in the movie business have “moved a long way, but we’re not at a destination point.”

And the numbers back up Whitaker’s argument. “In the early 2000s,” states a piece in The Hollywood Reporter, “blacks played 15% of roles in film and TV. Today, it has fallen to 13% … and black directors make up only 4% of the DGA.”

Mackie: Blacks are "lazy" on their game

Actor Anthony Mackie, of The Hurt Locker and Million Dollar Baby fame, says that the lack of exposure for Blacks in Hollywood is a result of Blacks being “lazy” and not telling their own stories.

What do you think? Are Blacks represented well and often enough in film and television? If not, what changes need to take place for that to happen?

Check out the conversations with Whitaker and Mackie, as well as with Blair Underwood, who says that television has become much more “fractured” as Blacks are “relegated to certain networks.”

And be sure to share your thoughts below.

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  • Monica

    I will have to lean more to blacks are missing in action. There are more predominately all black shows (Real housewives of Atlanta, and more others)or casts that reinforces the traditional centuries old black stereotypes to the point where those roles becomes the entertainer’s (not actor) comfort zone and is perceived by others as part of an ethnic group’s culture (when not all people in the black culture portray themselves as such on television). I don’t know if the these types of roles are the only available roles for blacks, if the roles are designed particularly targeting certain actors, or if there is slim picking of roles that these roles are the only option just to get your feet wet. I believed (I may be wrong but) when it is time to play more serious roles, the actors in some cases are not taken seriously by others because of their limited range of role portrayals. It is almost like a resume, less experiences, less options. The actors which usually do not reinforces the typical stereotypical roles are the ones that are either unknown in mainstream (even though they been around for years), been around and well-respected by all (due to their recognition in roles that attracted those across color lines and within their own cultural group), or have to play a degrading role (outside the actor’s norm) in order get recognition or award.

  • Francisco

    Being a minority myself I believe I understand your concern Tavis, but please remember change does not happen all in one lifetime, blacks have made great srides in many areas. These awards shows play to a certain auidence, and it’s not always what the public percieves, but it’s what the quote “Academy percieves”. You want people to win these awards that truly deserve them, not because a black person has not won in awhile so lets find one to give a token award to, does that make sense to you? For example I feel like Denzel Washington performance in Philadelphia was better than trainning Day, what happen? I also believe Jeff Bridges performance should have won this past yr. but didn’t because I feel people are prejudice aganist Westerns. I believe your show should win an Emmy but because it doesn’t is there a conspiracy aganist black talk show host, I don’t buy that.

  • Asha

    What if the black actors start doing fresher material rather than the woe is me type of scenarios? I am an actor and I plan on bringing something different to the table. I am tired of the stereotypes and the excuses of black Hollywood. And sometimes their vision is not as big as we think it is, some of them are just happy to be working. And maybe that is the problem. I think alot of them limit themselves. Well I will see for myself one day, Wish me the best lol

  • Bob

    Numbers back up Whitaker’s argument? That is crazy talk! What should the destination be, if we aren’t there yet, 20%, 30% or maybe even 50%? Is that then equality?

    NO IT IS NOT! African-Americans make up 12.6% of the U.S. population. That means that we are at the destination right now. Blacks are represented at almost exactly the ratio in which they exist in this country. That is as far as it should go, not discrimination.

    With the 15% they had beforehand they were unjustly over represented. If you want to complain about a racial minority being underrepresented, then you should complain about Hispanics who make up 14.9% of the U.S. population, which I doubt mirrors their percentage of roles in film and TV.

  • Doug

    In my opinion, I believe black actors should take a page out of Tyler Perry’s book. If hollywood can’t make roles for you then you need to make roles for yourselves. Black actors in every generation have tried to take control of their destiny but for whatever reasons have continued to fail at it Well, until Tyler. Black actors need to come together and create their own movie and television production company as Tyler has done. This is the only way to get hollywood to take notice and respect what they have to offer. In that same tone, black consumers need to support and value the work that is being made for their entertainment. Anthony Mackie does have a valid point in that blacks our not telling their own stories but they are in no means being “lazy”.

  • Angelo

    Because of the corporate ownership of hollywood studios, today’s studio executives will only “greenlight” those projects that are almost guaranteed to be profitable. That means you will see “Transformers 10″ and other movies geared to appeal to the pre-teen crowd. Having said that, there’s very little room for studios to take risks with anything but top rated actors; you’ll see Samuel L.Jackson in every movie where a Black character is called for.
    This in essence means that if Black filmmakers want to tell their stories, they will have to own the means of production. From funding all the way to distribution, Black people will have to become an industry within the larger industry. Oscar Micheaux serves as an example of “bootstrap” movie making; doing his movies with his own scripts, actors, and resorting many times to guerrilla shooting tactics. Recently rediscovered by historians, Micheaux’s works should serve as a model of self sufficiency and determination to bring product for his audiences-Black audiences.

  • LT

    George Lucas had a hard time getting Red Tails greenlighted. Let me say that again..GEORGE “STAR WARS” LUCAS, had a hard time getting a movie greenlighted. Hollywood is to blame but so are we. What happened to the great black and ethnic shows of the 90s? Different World, Cosby Show, Fresh Prince, Martin, In Living Color, Living Single, New York Undercover, etc etc etc. Black people of power, who are in Hollywood, need to do a better job getting new shows on TV! All we have is Tyler “yes’m” Perry. SMFH!

  • Mr. Nice

    Hollywood is all about making money. And Hollywood is very conservative. Investors are not inclined to put their dollars into projects unless there is a reasonable certainty that it will provide a return. That said, there are many blacks with money but the majority of Hollywood money is controlled by whites. For example, even the wealthiest black entertainers could risk most of their net worth on a single project (no one does that; interestingly enough, Mel Gibson did it on the Passion of Christ and made himself extremely wealthy because of it). A white person will invest in a project provided they see a return but why would he do that if he doesn’t get our experience? And unless investors can see a return then there will be no investment. Tyler Perry is an example of a black movie maker who understands the business: he found a niche and exploited it. His movies are spectacularly profitable. Thus he is able to get more funding for more projects. Tyler is not a great filmmaker but he is a money maker. I think the secret is to do what Quention Tarrantino did with Pulp Fiction: have a unique story telling style and vision of that can be created at lower than usual cost and keep your fingers crossed in the hopes that it hits: or put another way, either revitalize an old genre or create a new genre. Macke makes a decent point about “our not being on top of our game”. There is certainly alot that needs to be done.

  • shaz

    I am very dissopointed with the lack of black actors and actresses in the oscars where are they, I find it very disturbing that its seems we have no stories to tell about blacks when we’ve been through so much for equality.why are we making whites take over all the awards in britain and ver seas whites are in control of the films. Blacks came to england in the 40s to help out after the war why does the british never address this, that was a very important part of british history, but they never tell the the story,its all period dramas,or its before we came, example call the midwife.I’ve given up hoping for change now, Its always going to be about what whites did bla bla bla I want to know what blacks have done and see it in the movies just like whites can, they have plenty of role models where’s mine I rest my case.

  • Meiger Leeger

    Do we as black folks get enough roles? Well let me first start off by stating that I have watched a lot of films and television shows to be able to give this answer. And my answer to that question is no we don’t. We are rarely shown on film but when we are shown, we most likely portray a weak, hated, annoying and the treacherous type of character. I was watching falling skies and notice the lack of our nationality portrayed in this show. There was a black guy in the show but he was killed off and made to look like a traitor. So not only are we not getting a fair offer in films but we are only getting stereotype roles which does not put us in a good light. Same with the show supernatural. There were a few black folks but they were made to be shown as bad characters before they were killed off. This trend has been happening with our people for decades and its time for them to either stop screwing us over or I say we should boycott watching movies that don’t star decent black roles in them.

  • Anna estrella

    CSIMiami, CSi, N.Y, Grimm, Psych, American Idol, Today, Talk Shows, n c s. I, Revenge, and many more, I think that u are doing o.k, much better than Asian, American Indians and Latinos. U r making great strides. go for it!

  • James Nelson

    Yeah, Anna, I see what you’re saying but excluding the reality television crap (dance and sing for me Black person), and the talk show stuff, why is it a Black person seems to only work in mainstream fare when it’s an ensemble cast, or some type of bi-racial “buddy formula” ? Where’s are all the equivalents of a House that stars a Black actor, or a Jack Bauer type character? Where’s a Black female equivalent to Jennifer Garner in Alias. How about some decent genre stuff with a PoC at the helm period? Star Trek Ds9 wrapped up in 1999!

  • Dimtiri Jude

    The fact is we have to work hard in our work, even harder than others. Anthony is right, you have to take that low pay to get were you want to go. Look at his movie list now, He just got casted in The next caption america movie, his lastest movie, no pain no gain was number over over last weekend. He has put his work in and so should the rest of us. People can keep blaming the system, or look to change it for the masses, but we cant change anything until we change how we think ourselves. Everything Anthony said was right, we should take note.

  • MizLatice

    This was a great interview. And Anthony is right; however, something that I have noticed & heard others comment on is how the same “black” actors are recycled over and over and over.And now some of these roles are being handed to people on reality shows & that’s a total slap in the face to those of us who actually study the craft and do the work. I totally agree that we’re not getting our stories out there& we have plenty of them to share with the world. “We” don’t like to pass the torch, “we” don’t unite for causes such as this, but the white folks have been doing it, Bollywood is doing it, we gotta get it together. Too much talent to go to waste, too many untold stories that could give hope and save lives perhaps. I really appreciate Tyler Perry cuz he really does get it & he banks on new talent. Now that’s a class act! He just shouldn’t be the only one in our community doing it. Support your community, every race does it except us. I luv Anthony’s quote: Success is when Opportunity&Preparation meet. Or I think that’s what he said.LOL @MizLatice on Twitter

  • CG Thomas

    I am a black actor, classically trained , but it hurts me to see the BS reality shows that alll it does is uplifted the stereotypes of negativity black people. Tyler Perry whom I respect but also am ashamed of by using the wrong brain waves taught by black families over the century to gain popularity and wealth of the weaken minds of his people. I know now after he was pulled over he has become more humble and making diffrent type of movies and thats what I want to see growth.. In hollywood there is no growth, the black agents look over you faster than the white agents do, because they know you wont be getting any roles to make them rich.. I think black actors should start their own SAG its all in fair game. http://www.cgthomas1.com

  • Yolanda Parker

    The problem blacks need to come up with their own original ideas for films, not always showing that life is a struggle. All blacks are not poor and struggling, living in ghetto’s and uneducated. The use of imagination is a beautiful tool once we decide to utilize it. Everything is not a love story of desperation we need to come up with new ideas for story lines and not continue to copycat off story’s that have been written, and stop showing our selves as pimps and drug dealers, there are all types of movies horror, thrillers, “who done its?” and movies on how it should truly be, what I am trying to say is come up with original ideas and different structure and as black American we need to begin to help ourselves along and pull each other up and put our heads together and come up with our own solutions. “SEEK AND YE SHALL FIND!.

  • ALVIN EL

    Over the years, African Americans have begin to emulate the Europeans in Hoollywood and/or Broadway, thinking thats how it is … behold thats not how it is, we must start a long-term collaboration amongst each other to create and make films on our own in every aspect of the film industry, and stop waiting on a specific script to come our way. Note: There are plenty of talented African American writers across the nation, whereas films and/or movies can be made far into the twenty-first century. Therefore where are the directers, and producers who want to make a difference???

  • Gloria

    Most “indie” movies are actually backed by Big Hollywood who want to cash-in on the niche, so it’s not fair to act as if we can just strike out on our own and make a well-received film.

    Issa Rae and the writers of “Dear White People” have made some pretty amazing stuff that has plenty of support online, but it’s taken them YEARS to get the greenlight from execs. They’re always ALWAYS told it’s not the right time.

    In one case a WOC wrote a show with 3 Dimensional latina characters doing non-stereotypical things (what we’re used to seeing for white women, just with Latina actors). She was told by the white female exec that it wouldn’t work, that the characters should do things that “real” latinas do… like “talk about their boyfriends in jail… you know like black women do.”

    This is what we’re up against.

  • Chris

    In this upcoming tv season there is no African or Latino American shows on main stream channels. The new shows are very vanilla , meaning they are basically white shows with no persons of color. The show Scandal with Keri Washington is Avery good show developed by Shona Rhimes of Greys anatomy fame . This young woman knows how to wright this is what you need in Hollywood very smart ethnic writers.

  • lylo

    The black American population is 13%, why does anyone think there is a problem or the number of blacks in Hollywood should be any higher? Should there be an out cry for more whites in basketball or football? Obviously the percentages are way out of proportion based on the population in America of all the races.

  • Tom

    Unfortunately, Hollywood is where the money is to make movies and black actors go to where they can make a living. I feel that Hollywood has an agenda to show blacks only in certain roles- assistant, subservient, etc. There have been few times that blacks are seen as leaders and the ones in charge. Don’t get me started on Real Housewives and some of Tyler Perry’s movies. I think his success is great but it is at the expense of black people. I tend to agree with Spike Lee’s point about his movies. Hollywood basically wants to make its money and they know that white movies can sell all over America. Until blacks own their own studios and can turn out their own movies, they will forever be at Hollywood’s mercy.

  • canadianmovielover

    Not just blacks, but all minorities are underrepresented as actors in North American film industry. I am of the opinion that it’s because of racial discrimination – white USA wants hot white actors, and Hollywood caters to market demand. Heck, I wouldn’t even limit the problem to racial discrimination. How many fat or old and ugly actors do you see in film? Personally I wish more black actors woere represented. Black is definitely beautiful in my eyes!!

  • CabrioDeb

    Check out the re-post of a British awards reflection piece that ties in nicely with this article – how British black actors seem only to be seen as British outside of the UK and how the amazing talent of the 2013-14 awards season was largely ignored on home shores. There might be lessons for African-American actors and Uncle Sam!
    http://blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/caste-as-black-part-one-awarded-a-lesson-in-perception

  • Dr_Jean_Claud

    Mackie is correct, but laziness with black actors is only the tip of the iceberg. The old Soviet Union long ago figured out what hollywood still doesn’t understand, i.e., if you give people jobs they are not suited for you get bad products and if you create a one-way door into the job market combined that with no oversight, i.e., productivity is not a factor in keeping your job, people learn quickly that doing work is pointless because you get paid no matter what.
    Hollywood provides jobs, gives huge salary’s and then disassociates the poor return on investment (profit) from the need to provide quality entertainment (movies people enjoy and will pay money to see) you will create a workforce (actors) who find out that they don’t need to do any work in order to make a good living.
    An excellent example is the Obamas. They were given degrees that did not require learning or any effort for them to obtain, so never bothered to learn–both are as dumb now as they were when they started college. He’s given a job as president and since he’s learned that he need not work for a living he simply ignores any detail associated with his job and as a result, in a world where even a war lord earns his position the rest of the world sees Obama (ad America by association) as a ludicrous joke, completely self absorbed and without even a basic understanding of what his job is in terms of running a country, or in cooperation with other countries or their leaders. Moreover, we reward poor performance in that in the case of Hollywood we give Oscars where no are warranted and in the case of government we reward no effort (or sometimes even malicious behavior) with the presidency.
    The result is both Hollywood and government sink to the lowest common denominator–no one bothers to work because they’ve seen complete incompetence rewarded.
    Simply stated laziness is rewarded and poor performance is the norm.

  • LaWandra Crummie

    I think black people in the movies and TV have come along way, considering the past decades. We just need to tell our own stories as Mackie said. We shouldn’t totally depend on Hollywood to do it, because they really never have. Besides, Hollywood is about money and if the “think” they can’t make money they won’t do it….Even if the writing is on the wall, so to speak.

  • Wardell Henley

    My concern is the number of non African Americans playing African Americans in movies and TV, ( British, Africans, etc.), the British, Africans, etc., do not represent African Americans, African Americans do not really relate to British, Africans, etc, because the British, Africans, etc, seem to dislike African Americans

Last modified: March 5, 2012 at 8:15 pm