And just wanted to list my contentions regarding black men and sex in film.
1) Hollywood DOES make movies where non-white males have sex. None of them cross the 100-million mark.
2) The percentage of black males as leads in 100-Million plus films is approximately the same as their presence in the general population.
3) The percentage of 100-million plus films in which there is sex is a little above 20%.
4) non-white females DO appear in 100-million plus films having sex. But only with white males. (In American films. One exception: "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.")
The simplest mechanism I can think of to explain this is lack of audience interest in seeing non-white males in sexual context. I grant that females have less of this tendency than males. So I'm willing to say the following: "Males of any given group are less interested in seeing males of other groups engaging in reproductive behavior than members of their own groups." I don't isolate this tendency to "white males." They just happen to be in the majority, so their unconscious tendencies drive box office and major casting and plotting decisions (as a market force). Talk about your "Invisible hand of the market!"
The existence of this phenomenon is reinforced by such things as the negative Amygdalic response, and the "80% aversion" factor discussed in Discover magazine. It would also explain much about war and violence worldwide, the persistence of racism. And on into differential preference for hiring, promotion, access to education and housing. And into treatment in the justice system and law enforcement. The tendency is so pervasive partially because it is almost invisible: the Movie statistic is just a place I can point to it as an undeniable force in culture and human behavior.
There is no direct way to stop this. And that's what's so frustrating for many people. You can make movies, but you can't force people to see them. I'm NOT saying there aren't images out there. I'm saying that in this one statistic, predictably as hell, you can see the "invisible hand" and it's been persistent for almost 40 years. Those who see it, and grasp that it is also a factor in society so pervasive, can modify their attitudes and jsut have awareness of it--get out of denial that the force is there. I don't expect them to change voting patterns, behaviors, or anything else. Jsut be aware.
Some will take their feelings of "this isn't fair" and speak of social programs, reparations, and so forth. I'm not suggesting any of those things. BUT if you are against social programs that try to compensate for the pervasiveness of this human mechanism, please be honest enough to say the truth: "it's not my responsibility, I didn't create this situation, it's my money and I have the right to keep it."
I can accept and even respect that. But I really resent people who criticize social programs saying "Liberals are prejudiced! They don't believe black people can compete!" I think that is a grotesque twisting of the actual attitude. In my experience, Liberals grasp the uneven playing field, and Conservative do not. In my experience, Conservatives will try to convince me that ALL of the difference in black-white performance has to do with black behaviors. In my mind: bullshit. Some are, of course. I know not a single human being who accepts more personal responsibility for his life than I do. Or I preach. But if you are oblivious enough to grasp that just by being born with dark skin, you are standing in a hole, then I can understand why set-asides and racial quotas in colleges would urk you. I grasp it, but REALLY disagree.
So in short:
1) the black men/sex in movies thing is important for me to track because it measures the "invisible hand" of racism in the best statistical way I can find, in an arena where I have some knowledge of how the stats are gathered, and a congruent theory of what it means.
2) There are lots of smaller movie, or unsuccessful films, or less succesful films with black sexuality. Their lack of crossing the 100 million mark is a sign of the "20% disconnect."
3) approximately 20 percent of films across the 100 million mark have sexuality in them. the percentage of those with non-white males is virtually zero.
Simple. Elegant. If someone out there has an alternate theory to explain what's going on, I'd be interested in hearing it.
But on another level altogether, what do I think it means? I think that if you can keep an animal from reproducing, it dies. For many years, black males died disproportunately to whites in action/SF films, a clear indicator to me of a differenc in perceived value, and sublimated fear/anger issues. THAT has mostly been stopped, so the anxiety jumped up a Chakra--to sex. It can't be literally that we really aren't as attractive, or else non-white females would be excluded as well. They aren't. This is about male stuff. So I see it as an unconscious aversion, a fear of being "outbred" by the "other." Deny them access to your females, or even their own. Now...that's the fantasy world.
But does it have any effect on the 'real" world? I think that the average person would say that advertising works, and that cultural images have impact. No matter where you go on the political spectrum, people believe in this to one degree or another. And we know that we learn by imitation. Adn we know that the movie and television provide images of unparalleled power in the history of human communication.
If I look at all human communication, one of the most consistent messages is: "boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl." In other word, humanity has been passing the message "this is how you mate and raise a family over and over again, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, through all of time. We LOVE this arc like we love sugar. It suggests to me that there is something vital here. Relationships are difficult. I think we tell so many stories about them to help ourselves figure them out. How to navigate love, intimacy, sex, fidelity. It's tough.
White kids have wall-to-wall images of themselves succeeding in every human arena, a direct march up Maslow's hierarchy of needs, right up the Chakras. And they STILL get screwed up a lot. It might be possible for someone to say "see? That means all that image and role-model stuff is pointless". I'd say that it's VERY important, but not 100% predictive.
I think that if you can disrupt the flow of fictional, mythic images that show a member of a group growing and changing and facing the basic steps of life, then you had BETTER have an intact community, with intact families, to pass that data from generation to generation. All other people on this planet have intact strands of mythology, religion, and history connecting them to their ancestors. They have a thick, thick braid of stories showing themselves as brave, smart, sexual, surviving. One of the things I admire about the Jewish culture is the strength of their mythology.
So young black men receive a vastly disproportunately smaller number of these healthy images. Want to be God? Watch Morgan Freeman. Want to be a Vampire Slayer? Watch Wesley Snipes. Want to be an impossibly noble hero? Watch Denzel. Want to be a wise-cracking super-cop? Watch Will Smith.
But if you just want to be strong and sexual, to watch the dance of male and female as males of every culture around the world do...then watch direct to video cheapies. Or watch white males as they demonstrate to each other for the millionth time that they are the best in the world. Empathize with them even at the cost of your own self-respect, because, hell, if these golden, angelic creatures called White Males, who can apparently do anything, think you're unattractive or unimportant, it must be true! And if your own black women will have sex with them and not YOU, why, that must be a measure of your worth as well, right? I mean, it's right up there on the movie screen, to be seen by hundreds of millions of people world-wide.
Don't tell me media doesn't matter. It programs us, and reveals our secret wants, needs, fears, and desires.
Black Americans are a special interest of mine, for multiple reasons. And they have some unique difficulties, not of their making. And they must rise above them, without expecting outside help. But while I accept that, it enrages me when someone snipes from the sides, not understanding the pervasive hand of human fear in the way social and economic policy has been against us from the day we were first dragged here, and the invisible forces that affect statistics to this day.
The movie thing is just a way of pointing it out. For over thirty years, I've been pointing it out and predicting white America's behavior based on the one fact. Black males understand INSTANTLY. Black females take a moment longer (it doesn't hit them as hard, in this particular way). Gay whites get it pretty quick. White females get it--and instantly blame it on their men. And white males take the longest. You don't ask if the deck is stacked unless you're losing.
And the worst thing is that so much of what happens to black Americans in life is controlled largely by the same white folks who reject our humanity. Who gets scholarships. And what grades. Who is arrested, convicted, and how much time they get. Whether they are executed or pardoned. How tax dollars are spent. Who gets hired and promoted. How gets loans, and who gets medical care in emergency situations. In all of these there are objective and subjective standards. And every time you have a subjective standard, you are dealing with the intangible: "do I like them? Do they like me? Do I feel good in their presence?" The "attractiveness" factor, the invisible thing that juries, bosses, landlords, police officers and more factor in, unconsciously, when they make decisions...all revealed to me in the invisible hand of marketplace of dreams: the box office.
And the fact of the inevitable rationalizations people use once they can't deny its reality
1) women blame men
2) the rest of the country blames Hollywood
3 Conservatives blame Liberals.
4) Liberals blame Conservative
5) Young people blame older people.
6) blacks blame whites
The answer is anywhere but the mirror. Anywhere. Please God, anywhere. "I Am Legend" earned like 29 million dollars ITS FIRST DAY. Will Smith, Entertainment Weekly's Fifth Smartest Man in Hollywood, just got a personal best. Some of you need desperately to believe that he is wrong, that America would be as interested to see his bare ass, or Denzel's, as it would Brad Pitt or whoever. Don't defend yourself by saying, "well, I don't like seeing sex onscreen at all..." then we're not talking about you, are we? But gigantic swaths of the movie audiences DO like it, from billion dollar movies like "Titanic" to billion dollar franchises like 007, and everything in-between. From PG13 kiss/fadeouts to NC-17 hot wet gropings. Something on this spectrum appeals to you. Tell the truth. Yeah, it hurts, but I PROMISE you it doesn't hurt a fraction as much as it has to be on this end of it.
I don't want anyone to feel guilty, or try to "do" anything about it. Just be good folks, raise your children well...and when people mention affirmative-action programs, vote for or against them as you will, but DON'T lie to yourself and think the playing field is level.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
And just wanted to list my contentions regarding black men and sex in film.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 10:10 AM