The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Monday, January 31, 2005

A gloomy prediction for "XXX"

Just saw the trailer for the sequel to "XXX", and make this unhappy prediction.  Just this: the Ice Cube starrer, due out in April, will have less sex than the Vin Diesel film.  And I am predicting this on one clue alone: his skin is darker.  I just hate having to come back to this again and again, but at a time when I see black and Asian women sexualized like crazy--as long as they are with white guys--this barrier is still uber-difficult to cross.  I have very nice, very smart, relatively sensitive white friends who don't get my attitude on this at all, who think I am feeling sorry for Wesley Snipes if he is denied nooky in "Blade."
No, that's not it, and I thought I'd try to lay out my reasoning here, just so I don't have the thoughts rattling around in my head.
1)  I don't feel sorry for Wesley.  I feel sorry for myself, because I've gone so many years in my life with damned few images of men who look like myself and are powerful, sexual, intelligent, independent...and survive the movie.  Frankly, "Shaft in Africa," made in 1973, is the last film I can think of clearly that had all of these elements and succeeded at the box office.  That's right, it's been an entire generation.  Meanwhile, white kids have been able to see this kind of imagery of themselves day in/day out every week of the year, every year since.
2)  I don't just think this is a matter of "Hollywood."  Hollywood is a machine that feeds on money.  It is, in my mind, the accurate judgment of Hollywood executives that white guys will be less likely to put down their money if they think they will see a black or Asian's bare ass on screen. 
So Hollywood gives them what they have good reason to believe they want to see.
3) It is not a matter of white folks finding nonwhites unattractive (an interesting theory).  If this were true, we wouldn't have seen such an explosion of white guys boffing dusky-skinned women onscreen.  Look at a very very partial list of the non-white women who've been paired with white guys over the last years, at the exact same time black and Asian men have gotten no action (or if they get action, the movies bomb in the box office, or top out at around 50 million--the cinematic ghetto): Rosario Dawson, Beyonce, Whoopi Goldberg, Thandie Newton, Lucy Lui, Halle Berry, Whitney Houston...virtually any brown female artist of any note has been coupling on-screen with white guys, in the exact same cinematic period when black and Asian actors have gotten nada.  In case you think this was a choice on the part of said brown actors, it is not.  Sometimes in print, but gladly in person they will speak honestly of their disappointment that America will not embrace their sexuality.  my wife Tananarive wrote an article about it for Essence, and I've spoken to some of them personally.  It has to be off the record, though--the one time Denzel spoke out honestly, people accused him of racism!
4)  "But isn't this just entertainment?" Well, no.  It is a symptom of the way that America sees me, and people who look like me.  Every time I hear about white cops shooting an unarmed black man, I wonder if the same urge to turn away from a sexual image isn't part of the "reduced perceived humanity" that makes the trigger finger a bit more itchy.  Just a bit.  The threat/value ratio is just a hair out of balance. It makes it just a hair more dangerous for me in this world.  It hurts when I sit in a movie theater filled with Caucasians, and hear guys go "yuck" if a black man is kissing a woman.  Any woman.  But especially an Asian, and if it's a white woman, the audience goes dead, dead silent.  Dead.  And doesn't recover for at least five minutes.  I've seen it happen dozens of times over the years, and am sick of people telling me it's my imagination.
Second--young males will do anything to get laid, people.  They will follow whatever images will show them as powerful, intelligent, sexual, dynamic.  This is obviously an important image system--human beings have been pretty reliably selling it for thousands of years.  I defy you to find a single week in the last twenty years when there hasn't been at least one movie with these elements aimed at white audiences.  And like I said--it's been THIRTY-TWO YEARS since a major studio released such a film, with a black lead, which succeeded at the box office.  That is heartbreaking.
When there are no decent images of such power, young men will turn to indecent ones.  Currently, the only place they can see themselves as powerful, successful, and sexual is rap videos.
It makes me want to vomit. 
##
Outnumbered ten to one, without a single brown person capable of "green-lighting" a movie in Hollywood, people ask me why I meditate so much, why I am so insistent on a philosophy that places all human beings in a context of understandable flaws rather than "evil."  The answer is simple: I would explode with fear and hate if I didn't.  My conservative friends  would love for me to take the position that black folks don't have the genetic "stuff."  Frankly, if I did, that would make me actually look better than I see myself.  Wow!  The wondrousness of me!  But wait...if I was that unforgiving of black people for the dysfunction in their community and the crime statistics, what would I make of white folks, who have all the advantages I yearned for as a child, and are STILL screwed up?  Hmmm.  Either I'm going to love everyone, and treat everyone with compassion and understanding, or I'm going to be a monster, folks.  Take your pick.
##
What can I say?  Maybe I shouldn't complain, but it bothers me that the most "Family Friendly" movie studio, Disney, in its entire 20th century output of animated feature films, had not a single frame of an animated image of a black man or woman.  We just didn't live in their imagination.  Millions of frames to ZERO.  That is, I am terribly afraid, the truth.  We're not wanted here.  But we're here, and have nowhere else to go.
##
Please understand.  It's important for me to be able to speak these things, to get it out in public rather than just sitting on it, letting the fears and angers twist and coil in my mind like a nest of snakes.  I promised you when I started this blog that I'd let you see what was going on inside my head, honestly, not just the good stuff. The nice stuff.  Oh, that's there as well, but there are times I see shadows.  Times I hear chains rattling.  I contain multitudes, and some of them are not happy at all.

Steve

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