Diversity in Film: The media reacts
Last week we talked about Hollywood’s (ongoing) diversity problem in context to Rupert Murdoch’s and Ridley Scott’s outright offensive attitudes regarding the whitewashing controversy surrounded Exodus: Gods & Guyliner. This week, we’re taking a look how the media covers stories like this. I don’t want to hold the media up as some kind of noble crusader—though it has its moments—but the conversation around race and diversity, especially right now in the US, is more often than not driven by narratives shaped by the media. I recognize my place is in the back of the classroom, throwing spitballs at teacher, but it’s important to not only hold up the studios who make the movies for scrutiny but the media outlets who cover them. After all, Murdoch owns a movie studio AND a news network.
So let’s start in Murdoch’s house. I visited Fox News’s website and searched for Exodus/Exodus: Gods & Kings/whitewashing/casting controversy—I put in key word searches six ways to Sunday and got only three results: This video about faith-based films, this article about Christian Bale, and this actually-relevant, Spanish-language article about the history of whitewashing in Hollywood. It’s not surprising the coverage is so thin, given the protective self-interest of the company in particular and Murdoch’s blasé attitude toward this topic in general.
It’s a good thing, then, that this has been a big story for other news outlets. A Google search of just “Exodus movie” yields dozens of results about the casting controversy, right off the top. The coverage ranges from Twitter hashtag #boycottExodusmovie to moderate articles examining issues to stuff like this awesomely pissed-off piece from David Dennis, Jr. The prevalent sentiment outside Fox News is a resounding “WTF, you guys.”
And that’s generally the case across the board. John Boyega, a black English actor, is the first face we see in New New Star Wars, and there’s by far more coverage given to his most excellent response to people being a bag of dicks about the existence of a black stormtrooper than there is to the garbage people bitching in the first place. Similarly, when Idris Elba was cast as Heimdall in the Thor movies and some garbage people complained, the response was “Racist morons are racist morons, more news at eleven.”
Not too long ago, the conversation around Exodus would have been, for the most part, a justification of the status quo. There would have been statistics backing up the idea that white actors sell best, and really, no one knows FOR SURE what Ancient Egyptians looked like (except that we have a bunch of statues and death masks and mummies which strongly suggest “not six-foot-tall western European people”). But now the stats are about how profitable diverse casting is, how many popular franchises are diversifying, and how it was bullsh*t back when and it’s REALLY bullsh*t now.
We can’t let stuff like this off the hook. The more uncomfortable it is for the filmmakers who make this kind of decision, the less likely they are to keep making it. I hope Ridley Scott’s press tour for Exodus is a nightmare. I hope every interviewer brings up the casting and I hope his press junkets are days spent in hell, parceled out in three minute increments, as he must answer, over and over, for his decision. The media can put a spotlight on a problem and force a conversation, and it’s important that they do so. But ultimately, the real power lies with the audience. More on that later.
(Lainey: go see Chris Rock’s Top Five instead this weekend!)