The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Trying to clarify re: movies

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.")
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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!"
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Don't tell me media doesn't matter. It programs us, and reveals our secret wants, needs, fears, and desires.
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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.
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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.
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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.

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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.

28 comments:

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

White females get it--and instantly blame it on their men.

I have to admit, yes, that's me all over :-). But I would clarify that it's only this particular manifestation that I'm going to blame on "my men." That is, I think if it were women's prejudice that were driving most of this sex in the movie thing, we'd get Halle Berry starring in movies which carefully avoided sending her to bed with anyone, not Will Smith starring in those movies.

I do think that the larger points you make about that 80% factor would apply to women as well as men. That when it comes to things like who gets into colleges, and who gets jobs, and how the criminal justice system works, white women aren't somehow magically immune to racism, just because we have somewhat less power and influence on average than white men.

Anonymous said...

There is a whole lot of truth in the way that you (Steven) are looking at the film-sex-phenomenon.

I think it would be interesting to hear your take on "The Great Debaters". I saw it, and I think it is going to do very well financially (way over 100 mil, but I'm only guessing). I believe it comes out on Christmas day.

It does have a black male character having sex. Do you think this could hurt the movie? Could the movie do great, and that have any positive impact on the situation? What if the reason the movie succeeds is just because it is so good. Would that make an alteration in the dynamic such that there could be just as much racism, but studio execs would let the "black sex" onto the screen by citing how well Great Debaters did at the box office?

Maybe an exception is just an exception, or I might be asking you to read too much into a movie that hasn't even come out yet. Just curious. -Danny

Anonymous said...

Steven

I partly agree with you that there might be a percentage reduction in gross on a film of this type, but there might be a percentage gain from young black males that might offset it. R rated films don't do as well as PG-13 in breaking the 100 million mark in the first place, and I can't think of one that "all other things considered" would have done better without a black male having R rated sex.

Until "hollywood" decides to make one that is budgeted, produced, promoted, and opens in 3000 theaters, this is all just Theory and assumption. You could be right.

A question I have for you is-
If you're this obssesed about it, and it really bothers you, why don't you do something about it other than talk to your friends and fans?

I know you're very busy, but this may be something you need to do for spiritual reasons.

A few PBS talk show interviews might get it off your chest a little. Better yet, shoot for the moon, contact Bill O"rielly's producers. He likes to stick pins in Hollywood's butt.

Now that would be a cool interview!

One thing I'm sure of, doing nothing just lets the pressure build IMHO.

John M

Josh Jasper said...


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.


If you watch the few times conservative news casters talk about population and race, you'll notice that most of the white ones (and Michelle Malkin, who manages to be an Asian American White Supremacist) are scared spitless of being "out-bred" by Latinos in the US and Muslims in Europe. It's still a very real fear to a lot of people that whites are breeding less than people of other races.

Me, I don't care who's breeding more or less, other than that we're all probably doing too much of it for our future good.

Steven Barnes said...

I don't think its a conscious tendency, mostly an unconscious one that manifests in mild dislikes and preferences. The Great Debaters is getting great press. I live in hope!
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I do a lot more than blog about it. My entire presence in Hollywood is aimed at doing movies. Even if I don't make it, or get to make the kinds I want, or they aren't accepted at a massive level, I'll contribute to the store of knowledge of what DOESN'T work.

Dan Moran said...

Your list of things that didn't work for you, or were dead ends, was superb. Thanks, and sorry for not getting back to this earlier. I'm particularly interested in your take on biofeedback and NLP; two subjects I've always been interested in putting some time into, and never have. (And may not at this point, even when that mythical event of "having time" occurs; it sounds like there's more useful places to put my time.)

I was at my nephew's today -- remarkable kid, 15, plays three instruments, straight As in school, and has a black belt in karate. I said something foolish like, "I wish I could play an instrument" -- and he went off like you, priorities, time, etc. Did I have an hour a week, he asked. No, I said, I don't; and if I did, I'd spend it at the gym before I'd invest it in learning an instrument. So my "I wish" was just that, a magical desire to acquire a skill I have no intention of putting the necessary time into.

I did find time for one yoga class last week. Wasn't as hard as I'd feared, I wasn't sore the next day, and I sweated about as badly as I do playing basketball on a hot summer day -- interesting stuff. Looking forward to going on with it.

Some thoughts on your list --

UFOs, nope, don't believe in them.

Sexual experimentation -- one of the things I'm proudest of is that I'm still friends with everyone I've ever been meaningfully involved with (two ex-wives, one giflriend I lived with) ... but the truth is, I'd have had an easier life, and so would they, if I'd had less of a sex drive. I don't know that I'm sorry about it; I was who I was and they knew who I was when they got involved with me, so there's that. But near-lifelong promiscuity poisons relationships. I don't know if it's an order of magnitude harder to maintain two relationships at once, but it's way more than twice as hard. I will say this; promiscuity + honesty is way less damaging than promiscuity + lies.

Power lifting, not interested. Standard-issue bodybuilding has worked for me, though. No piece of gear I've ever owned has done me as much good as free weights.

Don't trust Scientology at all.

I think you were the first person to make the red words argument to me -- I've done it. I've read the entire Bible twice and skimmed it a good deal -- the most valuable thing in it (aside from the cultural education it contains) is Jesus's actual words. The only Bible I own has Jesus's words in red, and I bought it that way based on that (I think your) long-ago recommendation.

Almost all psychic stuff (including the glow you saw around Sri Chinmoy) -- not convincing to me. I don't doubt you saw something -- I'm just unconvinced it was an external phenomenon.) I'm skeptical of past life, channeling, telepathy, psychokinesis ... and auras. I'd like to see any one of them survive a double blind experiment -- until that happens, I'm going to ascribe all of them to self-deception, or, as in your case, some form of perception where the mind assembles various forms of information into a format it can handle.

Don't know anything about shamanism; the closest I've ever come was a flirtation with wicca. (Because I was dating a witch, predictably enough.) And yeah, I know they're very different, but as I say, closest. Wicca didn't convince me. I doubt shamanism would. I doubt Crowley's folks would. (In general, I'd lump them all together into the Extraordinary Claims category, along with UFOs.)

Megavitamin and other dietary stuff -- interesting. The idea that diet can affect health is so indisputable that I'm always interested in new science in this area. I'm not the least surprised by intermittent fasting, for example.

Life extension -- I'm interested. Cryonics, I'm interested, though as you note -- the most dead serious cryonics people I know are not a happy bunch. As to Jack Cohen and the whirlpool thing, I think he's wrong; long-term memory appears to be wired up. Short-term memory, no doubt being frozen down would play havoc with that, but we are not our short term memory. Or at least I'm not.

And finally drugs of any kind ... yeah, we're chemical machines. I've tinkered enough with the machine at various points in my life, I'm not interested in doing it any further without really good probabilities of something valuable on the other side.

Dan Moran said...

As to your actual post -- it's the ability to identify. To the degree you can identify with the people on the screen, you're involved in their sex act, and it's a turnon instead of a turnoff.

And frankly -- I think you're right about what really changes society: and it's not people learning better. It's people dying. Without revisiting the recent gay bias argument I had with Josh, it's absolutely true that my kids have less crap in their heads on this subject than I do; I had to learn better. All they ever had to do was not learn it in the first place. People (and societies) who never had to unlearn a falsehood are always goign to be better and healthier than those who did.

The angriest I ever had anybody get in an until-then friendly argument was on the subject of gay marriage. A buddy and I were arguing gay marriage and he was staunchly against it. I knew his kids -- after we'd been around the block on it a few times, he said I wasn't convincing him and I said I'd never expected to -- but that I was hopeful his children would learn better from having heard us argue about it.

For future reference, telling a parent you're trying to counter-program his kids is a foolish, foolish thing to do....

Marty S said...

I think Dan got it right, that it’s a question of identifying with a character. We all prefer books and movies that feature characters we can identify with. That still leaves the question of why white males can’t identify with black males.

On the issue of affirmative action not everybody who is against affirmative action is against it because they believe the playing field is already level. I am against affirmative action for several reasons.

1) Any sort of special treatment of a group is going to cause resentment by some non-members of that group and this delays achieving a society where everyone is regarded the same.

2) Affirmative action as practiced often helps those who least need the help. Giving admissions preference and a scholarship, to a female with a Hispanic surname, whose father drives a Mercedes and went to a private school hardly seems a solution to anything. I knew the woman was the beneficiary of this affirmative action.

3) Affirmative action does hurt people. I wasted two years in an unproductive job, because people were hired into an unneeded group in order to have bodies for a black affirmative action executive to supervise.

Discrimination has done much harm and the victims of that discrimination need a leg up to overcome their disadvantages. The way to do this is through non-ethnic policies that help all those who truly need and deserve a leg up. If a university is going to admit students who do not fully meet the usual standards they should do so based upon a set of standards that can be employed universally across all ethnic groups.

Steven Barnes said...

Marty--

I roughly agree with you, but hope that schools can be sly enough to find special cases that relate to race without breaking non-discrimination laws. And there are obviously many against affirmative action because they just don't give a shit. It's not all angels out there.

Tower said...

Fascinating as usual, Steve. I haven't studied this at all (to be honest, I never even thought about it until I read your thoughts on it), but do you think that the results you mention are because white males ultimately decide which movies are going to make over $100 million?

I mean, I don't know of women (of any color) that wouldn't love to see Will Smith in a sex scene. And the same goes for most of my gay friends. So does that mean that the SWM (straight white male) is the main movie-goer? Or that the SWM is the usual decision-maker on which movie that couples go to see together? I heard that the movie Titanic got such huge numbers because throngs of teenage girls went to see it 20 times each... but maybe that's the exception? I'm asking because I honestly have no idea.
I do recognize that you're right about this in that, in this country we constantly vote with our dollars. What we pay for, propers and what we don't usually fails. I've tried to take that awareness with me so I'm not funding things I'd rather not see more of. And visa versa.

Steven Barnes said...

To a very serious degree, white males decide--in the sense that if they don't turn out for a movie, it CAN'T get across the 100 million mark. Titanic would have done fine if those teenage girls hadn't seen it 20 times. It just wouldn't have earned that last 50 million or so. A huge percentage of women still go to movies with a husband or boyfriend, enough to sway the statistics, absolutely.

Steven Barnes said...

It is also fascinating to see how often, when I mention this to people, they think I'm talking about "R-rated sex scenes" with white women. FASCINATING how often someone mentions one or both. As if every James Bond movie doesn't have sex. My thought is that there is real unconscious fear in there: of black sexual supermen taking their women? I don't know, but a lot of the effects could be explained by such an unconscious fear.

Kukulkan said...

Let's assume that men of any race dislike watching men of another race involved in a sex scene. There is a bell curve of how much discomfort it causes, from virtually no discomfort to nausea. I think this is a reasonable assumption.

Now let's extrapolate about the effects of this assumption in our society. Let's say 75% of the population in the U.S. is largely Caucasian, 12% is largely African, and 4% is largely Asian. Now, if there is a movie with a Caucasian male having sex, none of the 75% Caucasian majority will be upset, and some percentage of the African and Asian populations will experience discomfort minor enough to be willing to pay money to watch a man of some other race have sex. So, let's assume 80% of the population is willing to watch the movie. Now let's assume a movie with an African man having sex: 12% of the population will have no discomfort, but some percentage of the remaining 88% of the population will experience sufficient discomfort that they will not pay money to watch the movie. Let's say that this means that 30% of the population is willing to pay to watch the movie. Presto-you have movies that make more than $100 million and movies that make less than $100. If your return is going to be less by making a movie in which a black man is going to have sex, then you have to reduce your investment in order to recoup your investment. Presto-direct to video. I strongly suspect that if you did a demographic analysis of ticket buyers on Titanic, you would find a disproportionately low number of African males -- as compared to Caucasian males -- who bought tickets.

My point is that it is likely that Africans also are "boycotting" movies that involve Caucasian men having sex. However, since Africans are a minority in the U.S., their boycott has much less of an economic impact. Does it bother you that African men are less willing than Caucasian men to pay to watch Caucasion men having sex on screen? If this doesn't bother you, then what is really troubling you is that Africans are a minority in the U.S.

Trying to overcome this aversion (likely inherent and socialized) is an immense, and likely unattainable, task. Will there be psychological effects as a result of the fact that disproportionately more big-budget movies involve Caucasian men having sex then African men? Of course.

Why do you want more big-budget movies involving African men having sex? Is it so that African men can see themselves having sex on screen? Is it so that Caucasian men will be desensitized to the discomfort they feel seeing African men having sex on screen? Is it so that African men can feel equal to Caucasian men? Is it all of these and more?

If the answer is primarily that you want African men to see themselves having sex on screen, then the African community has a clear choice: make movies in which black men have sex using a budget 1/6 the size of comparable movies involving Caucasian men having sex. A movie does not need to pass $100 million to be successful. In an economic sense, the success of a movie has virtually nothing to do with how large the box office is. Economic uccess is determined by the ratio of cost to return. I've been gratified by seeing exactly this (smaller budget movies featuring largely African casts) happening in the last decade or so. If your answer is that you want Caucasian men to become desensitized to seeing African men having sex, then the porn industry is trying to accomplish your goal.

Tower said...

I was talking to a friend of mine this morning about your article and he said he felt the same way about the portrayal of gay men in the movies. Then he paused for a moment and his eyes got really big and he said, "Wouldn't it be great if they had Will Smith have a hot sex scene in a huge movie and it was with another guy?"

Now, I understand why he said that and it has more to do with his self-identity as a gay man than trying to make black men genderless or non-breeding. But I was sensitive to the fact that while he got excited about that and thought it would be great... you would probably (I'm guessing) feel that until there are more portrayals of heterosexual black men in sex scenes with black women, that it would simply be one more example of your point. Is that true?
(Thanks again for bringing this up by the way.)

Marty S said...

While its a single incident here's some more support for your theories. About a month or so ago my wife and I went to see "Tyler Perry's: Why did I get Married?". It was an a weekday afternoon and there were only about twenty to thirty people in the audience but my wife and I were the only white audience. So apparently even if the subject is a common one of marital difficulties most whites don't identify when the cast is black.

Steven Barnes said...

You miss my point almost completely.
1) I want it so that black people can see themselves reflected back with the same kind of gloss, polish and mythic exaggeration that white people get--big budget gloss.

But that is SECONDARY to the fact that I use box-office results as a cultural thermometer, measuring unconscious acceptance of our humanity. I look at the 100-million boxoffice as a threshold: crossing that implies a BUNCH of different things, including but not confined to:
1) White acceptance of full black humanity.
2) Blacks organizing their skills to produce product at an extraordinary level of professionalism.
3) Increased power of women
4) Increased browning of America.
5) A role model I can follow in designing some of my own career paths.
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And I would LIKE to think that blacks are as averse as whites to seeing those of other groups. I don't think its true, though: we've been brainwashed to find blond hair, blue eyes and pale skin not just attractive, but approaching divinity. Psychologically, that's pretty toxic.

Steven Barnes said...

You miss my point almost completely.
1) I want it so that black people can see themselves reflected back with the same kind of gloss, polish and mythic exaggeration that white people get--big budget gloss.

But that is SECONDARY to the fact that I use box-office results as a cultural thermometer, measuring unconscious acceptance of humanity. I look at the 100-million boxoffice as a threshold: crossing that implies a BUNCH of different things, including but not confined to:
1) White acceptance of black humanity.
2) Blacks organizing their skills to produce product at an extraordinary level of professionalism.
3) Increased power of women
4) Increased browning of America.
5) A role model I can follow in designing some of my own career paths.
##
And I would LIKE to think that blacks are as averse as whites to seeing those of other groups. I don't think its true, though: we've been brainwashed to find blond hair, blue eyes and pale skin not just attractive, but approaching divinity. Psychologically, that's pretty toxic.

Steven Barnes said...

Correct: until I see black men having love scenes with women in movies, them having sex with men is EXACTLY an example of what irritates me. It's called "keeping them out of the breeder's circle." About thirty years ago I came up with this, noticing that black men in SF/Fantasy/adventure movies were never lean-bodied heterosexual survivors between the ages of 17-45. They were, in my parlance "too old, too young, too fat, too gay or too dead to reproduce." I stopped watching "Six Feet Under" when the only black character on all of HBO was gay. After seasons of watching "Oz" and seeing white guys (who were about 40% of the cast) getting 100% of the women, I just couldn't handle it any more.
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Tell your gay friend he's right, and I hope things change. But not Will Smith, please.

John said...

Hey Steve, love the blog. Your distilled knowledge and experience is both humbling and inspirational. I especially appreciate your take on racial issues and it has helped me to understand them in a more objective light.

I think you should seriously write a book about that instead of (or at least before)the "7" book. Your perspective on these issues is too valuable not to get out to more people.

My humble opinion .. .

Also, read Lion's Blood, my first of your work. After the first half I had trouble putting it down at night. Good stuff.

John

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

do you think that the results you mention are because white males ultimately decide which movies are going to make over $100 million?

Try applying the Bechdel Movie Test: for each given movie, are there a) two female characters, who b) talk to each other, about c) something other than a man. Now apply a comparable test for male characters. If you apply this test, you'll see that many of those movies that make over $100 million either don't have significant female characters, or have only one significant female character who is the girl friend, or have multiple female characters who only relate to the protagonist, but not to each other. But few movies do this to men. As with Steve's "who gets laid in the movies test," what matters is the pattern, not the individual movie; there are lots of good reasons you might write a movie about two male buddies where women don't figure so much, but if it's being done for men more than for women, that shows something.

Now look at the sexual content of those movies which have sex. Some of them (e.g. Titanic) do supply good fantasy material for some set of women. But there is a pattern: men, more than women, get movies in which the character who they're invited to identify with lands someone "out of his league." A movie can have sexual content that both white females and white males like, and score big, but if it has sexual content that really isn't one audience's preferred fantasy, it will be the men's fantasies that prevail.

I conclude that the white male audience must indeed be the main influence on which movies make over $100 million. Women tend to see movies with men, and I guess that, on average, who men can identify with carries more weight here than who women can identify with (whether because women are more likely to yield to their spouse or date's preferences, or because women have learned to be more flexible on which characters they identify with).

If your answer is that you want Caucasian men to become desensitized to seeing African men having sex, then the porn industry is trying to accomplish your goal.

You're joking, right? Interracial porn turns one set of people on, while freaking another set of people out. Heck, I'm freaked out by it, and I'd be happy to watch Denzel Washington get laid in full R-rated scenes with women of every race, if those scenes weren't all advertised with the message that any woman who'd want to sleep with him is a big old slut. I'm waiting for the day I see one single ad for a porn flick involving a black man that doesn't imply it's some super special kink that someone wants to sleep with him.

It's called "keeping them out of the breeder's circle."

Darn. At the moment, the only black character in my screenplay who's partnered is gay. (Then again, half the rest of the characters are gay, and the only guy who gets laid on screen is Chinese-American.)

Steven Barnes said...

Lynn, I like your Bechdel test. Yes, absolutely, certain aspects of movies are skewed toward males. No question. Since there are plenty of female film development executives, you have to figure that this is at least partially deliberate, some acknowledgement of the market's hand in their planning. They haven't been left out of the decision loop completely.

Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

Hmmm. I just tried the experiment of thinking how the screenplay would change if I did turn that particular black male character's white male partner into a black woman and - nothing changes. The character is total arm candy, and doesn't do anything. I wonder if that means the whole character needs to be cut. And I did rather want a couple of some sort there.

Anonymous said...

Now I want to see an R-rated blockbuster that's both action-packed science fiction and multi-couple sexy romantic comedy, including couples as follows:

L*) A black man and black woman who totally love each other

M) A black man and East Asian woman who totally love each other

N) A black woman and East Asian man who totally love each other (instead of him claiming that Ms. M is somehow "his woman" and Mr. M is "stealing his woman," and instead of her claiming that Mr. M is somehow "her man" and Ms. M is "stealing her man")

and in which none of the 6 above are killjoys for their partners.

The trouble is that I suck at writing, so this idea would need another scriptwriter. :( I promise not to ask for royalties/residuals/whatever if someone else wants to take it. :)



* numbers and A, B, C, etc. have too many rank connotations and I don't want to put one of these couples above another

Anonymous said...

I forgot to add: and that busts the block instead of selling few tickets. :)

Steven Barnes said...

I think its so charming that you guys believe that the right screenplay will make the difference. You're sweet. My opinion is that the right star COULD do it right now, but that they'd be rightfully worried about their follow-up movie. Could easily take a major hit.
##
And my guess about those Iraq war movies--most of them, the stars deferred their salaries. They seem to be relatively inexpensive movies. By the time they're released on DVD, most of them will actually make a profit. So the question does come back to why Conservative stars don't make movies about Iraq. I haven't even heard them carping that they have pet projects they can't get made. What's up with that? I'm actually curious now.

Anonymous said...

"I think its so charming that you guys believe that the right screenplay will make the difference. You're sweet."

Aww, thanks. :) I don't know about making a difference in the big scheme of things, but I do believe that the right screenplay would bring me to the theatre faster.

"My opinion is that the right star COULD do it right now, but that they'd be rightfully worried about their follow-up movie. Could easily take a major hit."

As for somewhat later than right now...

"Then he paused for a moment and his eyes got really big and he said, 'Wouldn't it be great if they had Will Smith have a hot sex scene in a huge movie and it was with another guy?'

"Now, I understand why he said that and it has more to do with his self-identity as a gay man than trying to make black men genderless or non-breeding. But I was sensitive to the fact that while he got excited about that and thought it would be great... you would probably (I'm guessing) feel that until there are more portrayals of heterosexual black men in sex scenes with black women, that it would simply be one more example of your point. Is that true?"

"Correct: until I see black men having love scenes with women in movies, them having sex with men is EXACTLY an example of what irritates me."

OK then, how about Will Smith (or a future protégé of his) playing a starship fleet admiral and family man in the movie version of a sequel of Zulu Heart, based in a Bilalistani* province that's the equivalent of Massachusetts**, in which he has a loving wife, a loving husband, and several children (including at least one son and one daughter who are biologically his and his wife's)?

Of course, this won't be made any time soon. For starters, you need to write more novels! Also, Insh'Allah might need to age enough to move from "Professor, would an essay on Lion's Blood fit the scope of the assignment?" territory*** to literature syllabi before it becomes big-budget movies.




* I don't know how you're planning to have Bilalistani marriage laws change over time, but keeping polygamy and changing in other ways seems like a possibility

** where marriage laws are gender-neutral

Anonymous said...

I just realized something else:

"It's called 'keeping them out of the breeder's circle.'"

Unless the movie is set far enough in the future for the characters in the gay male love scene to have conceived together?

Like if the bi admiral in the example I just posted has a 3rd son who is genetically his and his husband's, was conceived in a lab, and was carried to term by his wife?

Anonymous said...

" 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.'"

Maybe what will finally change this trend in movies is someday a lot of moviegoing men not using race in identifying with groups. For example, a white American guy seeing an African-American actor and actress in a sex scene and subconsciously feeling "I'm seeing a male of *my* group [American, whatever else he has in common with the actor and/or character] engaging in reproductive behavior."