Among the other things that have hit the fan in the ongoing Sony scandals is one email exchange that has not gotten a whole lot of attention.
One unnamed producer wrote in a leaked email to Sony’s Chairman, Michael Lynton, that black actors should not be cast in leading roles in major films because foreign audiences won’t like it, implying that they are the ones that are racist, so therefore Sony and presumably other American studios should just go along with that.
“I believe that the international motion picture audience is racist — in general pictures with an African American lead don’t play well overseas. When Sony made ‘Equalizer’ they had to know that Denzel opens pics domestically, however the international gross would be somewhat limited,” the producer wrote.
Lynton, to his credit, wrote back asking if the producer was suggesting that blacks should simply be excluded based on that logic. The producer answered that he was not suggesting such but was pointing out that if Sony chooses to cast black actors then they should do so knowing that they are limiting the box office potential.
Sounds to me like he was indeed saying black actors should not be considered. Otherwise why bring up the point? And what a circular argument: blaming other people’s racism as an excuse for also being racist. “It’s not us, it’s them,” is in essence what that argument suggests. Hogwash - if racism and ignorance is bad, then you never give in to it.
Look, I am not naive. I understand we are talking about the movie business and that many millions of dollars are at stake. And business is about making as much money as possible. But with that being said, every business still has to operate within the law. And pure discrimination is not allowed or acceptable. A decision to not cast someone in a leading role based purely on skin color is a tough decision. I am not talking about affirmative action in casting either. Ironically, even the unnamed producer in those emails admitted that Denzel Washington was the best actor available. He actually wrote, “I personally think Denzel is the best actor of his generation.”
So we are talking about picking the best actor for the job. The movie business is not like other businesses in many ways. I get that. But just like we aren’t going to let North Korea dictate what we show in our theaters, we shouldn’t let foreign racists dictate work for our best actors. Shouldn’t America lead the way, not follow others?
And besides, I just don’t buy the premise of the email anyway. It sounds like a self-fulfilling prophesy to me. If we believe those audiences won’t buy blacks in lead roles, we don’t give them a chance to get used to it. I for one believe a good action movie will sell no matter what. But it takes belief from those who back the films. If they carry their own doubt and subtle racism into the push for the movie, then it will fail.
The bottom line is this: we stand for something in this country. And those standards are part of what we export to the world. Now is not the time to give in to the worst, whether it is the worst of foreign audiences or the worst of our own domestic minds. The best black or other ethnic actors deserve a shot at the best films with the best backing possible.
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