The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Why sex in movies matters to me

A reply to my comment about the "XXX" sequel:
"Last summer PBS aired a documentary about the state of black America put together by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. In the episode dealing with Hollywood, he gets a high powered producer on screen who laid it all out with honesty. Paraphrasing, the guy said if he makes a movie with Denzel being Denzel, he'll make $80 million. If he throws in a black woman as active romantic lead, he'll make half that. And if it's a white woman in the active romantic lead, he'll make even less..."
Let me lay out my logic again:
1) The diminished boxoffice returns represents the degree of "disconnect" between racial groups. The degree of diminished perceived humanity.
2) Black Americans are outnumbered 10 to 1. They must deal with "the other" when looking for jobs, going to school, dealing with the justice system, getting loans, buying houses, etc.
3) The "disconnect" demonstrated in the box-office returns manifests in thousands of subtle and not-so-subtle ways, having both a direct result (added stress, decreased earnings, increased incarceration rates, or rates at which blacks are shot by white cops) and indirect results (a reduced respect for the "system" that denies their humanity, and simultaneously denies the denial.)
4) Therefore, I use the box-office results of films in which black males are sexual as a straw poll, a loose indication of the current level of acceptance by the American public. I've been watching it for twenty years. It's getting better, but it still falls far short of what I would consider a "level playing field."
Maybe we can't get there. Maybe human emotional frailty and tribalism precludes that. But I can speak my truth, and take comfort that there are ears to hear.

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