The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Future Sex

I got asked some interesting questions about future sexuality, and what if the love scene was gay? Hah! I’m not going to be thrilled about seeing a black man in a homosexual relationship unless I’m not seeing that any more often than I see white actors in homosexual relationships, relative to their representation in heterosexual relationships.

There it is. You don’t think I didn’t notice Will Smith’s kissing scene with Kevin James in “Hitch” being front and center in the advertising? Jesus, he’s smart (I thought to myself). In order to do a romantic comedy, the black guy has to also be helping the white guy get laid AND diminish his perceived masculinity by kissing another man. Then it’s safe for white audiences. I think Smith’s brilliant: he’s figured this game out at a level no one else ever has.

But having a futuristic situation where you have a black man with a wife AND a husband? Interesting. But not until I’ve seen one with a girlfriend (note: you don’t get love scenes between husbands and wives very often.) doing the boy-meets, boy-loses, boy-gets routine with at least a PG-13 love scene. This character arc is as common as drinking water: unless you're not white.

Oh, and “The Great Debaters”? Unless that love scene is with Denzel, no I won’t count it. If Felix Leiter got laid instead of Bond, think the audience might be a little pissed? Just another way of distracting from the Big Problem. Here I am, asking for something that white audiences get 24/7, 365 days a year, and I can’t get it ONCE. It’s like I say: notice that women never drive cars in movies? And people say, “well, there was one driving a motorcycle!” “She was a PASSENGER in a car!” “well, I saw a movie once, and NO ONE drove a car in it…” “what about if there was a movie that took place in the future, and the cars were computerized. Would that count..?”

All irrelevant. But funny.
People mention Colin Powell, and how many people wanted to vote for him. You can’t say that without also looking at the volume of death threats he received: the secret service lady I spoke to said that they’d never seen anything like it. So if you don’t factor that in, isn’t that just a bit disingenuous? Saying someone “can’t be President” isn’t contradicted if large chunks of White America would vote for him, but there’s also a real, serious, no-b.s. chance that thousands of other white Americans would like to kill him. Same is true for Obama, but I’d still back him. If he doesn’t get the nomination, it’s been a good run. If he gets it, runs a good campaign and loses, he’s still made history. If he runs, and wins, and makes it to the Oval Office and does a good job—fantastic. The images systems controlling American minds would shift with incredible speed. If he gets elected and one of these whackos hurts him…well, that would shift America as well. And I think, in an ultimately positive way. I don’t want to put anything out into the ether that isn’t already there, but as long as he has presented himself as pretty much the guy he is (and my indicators say that’s true) Obama is most interesting to me: like me, he never believed Iraq had WMDs or that Saddam had intentions to vastly expand. Maybe we were both right based on an accident or coincidence…but maybe not. And I’d have a hard time voting for someone I thought dumber than me.

But can he make it? Not if Denzel or Will Smith can’t get laid, no. That’s my position, and I’m sticking to it. “But what if someone ELSE in Denzel’s movie…” “what if he’s married, with kids, so it’s obvious that at SOME point he had sex…” “What if he meets a really hot chick, and the movie ends before he speaks to her, but in your heart you KNOW they’re gonna do it later…”
“What if it’s G-rated, and they kiss, but you know that in an R-rated movie they WOULD have…” “What if it’s an SF movie, and no one has sex anymore, but there are these Orgasmatrons, and they both hook up…” “What if there’s a transvestite but (chuckle!) Will doesn’t realize it—and neither does the audience (guffaw) until morning!”j “What if…what if…”

I’ve heard them all. None of them apply. Sex just isn’t that complicated. Unless, apparently, it’s revealing unconscious prejudices on the part of millions of supposedly enlightened Americans. Then it’s oh-so complicated. The creative meetings where they try to figure out how to avoid it THIS TIME must be hysterical. Or the way that, unconsciously, them sex scenes get re-written out of existence if the film was originally for a white star (say, Sylvester Stallone for “Beverly Hills Cop”) when a black star is cast (Eddie Murphy). No, no, no. No escape. Resistance is futile.
I'm afraid Obama is toast.


Pagan Topologist said...

OK, I still vote for Wesley Snipes as James Bond, made up as a white guy in the initial meeting with M, wherein he is told that he must be altered by high tech makeup to look black for the mission. Then he can be made up normally, and the subtext will be that the character is white, even if played by a black actor. This seems like a wonderful foot-in-the-door paradigm for a movie in which a black man has sex. Then, another movie later can push the envelope further.

Or am I just dreaming. (I am a real Snipes fan.)

Pagan Topologist said...

Sorry...I suppose I should have signed the last comment, since with the new system my name does not automatically appear in my comments.

David Bellamy

Mike R said...

>I'm afraid Obama is toast.

Well let's do some quick math. Let's say that you're right about around 10% of the American public being full blown racists who will never vote for a black candidate. So Obama is automatically down 10 points. That's a landslide defeat. But how many of that 10% are Republicans who would never vote for a Democrat anyways? Let's say half. So now Obama is really only down 5 points. Big, but not a landslide. But of the now 5% of Americans who would never vote for Black Candidate but might vote for a white Democrat, how many of them live in the South which was completely Republican in the last two elections and mostly Republican for the last generation? Let's say half again?

If the above is correct, then Obama is now down 2.5 points due to racism.

Now, in order to win, he'd have to win the states that Gore won in 2000 plus Florida, or the states Kerry won in 2004 plus Iowa, and he'd have an electoral victory. So the question becomes, is his strength as a candidate among non-racists in the North and West Coast strong enough to overcome the 2.5 points he suffers due to his race?

IMO, yes. I think he is naturally a more charismatic and just better candidate than either Gore of Kerry enough so that it's possible for him to overcome a 2.5 disadvantage.

Plus you have other factors involved like the widespread disillusionment with the Republicans at the moment, the possibility of a bad economy in 2008, and war weariness that will also play a role.

But the biggest variable is who he would be running against, and it's simply too close to tell at this point.

Steven Barnes said...


good analysis, and I'm aware that I'm using a very simple rubric in a very complex situation. I will almost certainly be wrong about this, one day. And no one will be happier than me!
Snipes can't play James Bond. I think Bond's identity as a Englishman would be warped a little too far if he weren't also white. It's not like changing the race of, say, Kingpin or something, where race doesn't matter. I'd love to see Wesley do something big again, and am hoping that he'll resolve his tax problems long enough to deal with his Hollywood blacklist situation.

Spilling Ink said...

My husband is a Republican and he is completely and wholly fed up and just can't take it any more. He's doing the whole, 'what were we thinking?!' thing. If THIS can happen... anything can. I think Denzel had best be ready for a wild ride. -- How do you know it won't work the other way, Steve? How do you know that Obama getting elected won't in turn influence life on the big screen? People really are fed up with the current political climate. Obama might be elected. I know a certain Republican who will vote for him... :-)

Anonymous said...

Both JFK and RFK were Irish-American. As you may or may not realize, being Irish-American has not always actually been that popular with the American mainstream, especially when coupled with being Catholic.

JFK ran for President in 1960 and won (vary narrowly, and it's possible his win was only made possible vote fraud in Illinois). Once President, he was absurdly charismatic, and it's easy to believe he'd have won reelection in 1964. But we'll never know.

After his brother's death, RFK ran for and won a Senate seat from New York state despite being from Massachusetts. He then, after some dithering, decided to run for President in 1968. He managed to win the crucial California primary. Then he took a bad path through the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel and got shot to death by a Muslim militant.

So, blacks aren't the only people who've had the experience of being attractive enough to get elected, but also unattractive enough to get murdered.

I wish, very much, that Powell hadn't had the wave of death threats he apparently had in 1996. I think the country could have used him as President from 1996-2004, badly. But I don't think those threats mean that he couldn't have been President, any more than the very real murders of JFK and RFK meant that a Catholic Irish-American couldn't be President.

What I think it means is that the red-state/blue-state divide in America isn't new, goes back a long way in time, and is very bitter and real. I think people like JFK or Powell get their lives threatened, not because they are unelectable, but because they are so electable that a minority who hates them gets frightened: if one of us doesn't actually kill this guy, a majority might actually vote to make him President! You don't get that urge to murder with somebody who's truly a fringe candidate, or even an unchangeably minority candidate.

--Erich Schwarz

LaVeda H. Mason said...

On it's face, your logic works...

But people aren't logical. It is possible that Obama will win, mainly because people are sick to death of two-faced candidates.

Like you, I have heard that Obama is WYSIWYG. If things keep going the way that they have been (scandal after scandal), I think that he has a good shot... especially when you take Mike Ralls' calculations into consideration.

BTW, congratulations on making the Essence Literary Awards Finals []

I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

Steven Barnes said...

I've never thought that blacks were the only ones threatened, or anything like it. John Kennedy was maligned for being Catholic much more than being Irish--I was alive at the time, and remember the rhetoric.
And I don't think it's movies influencing the public, or Obama's presidency influencing audieneces. Those are just "heads and tails" or a "which came first, the Chicken or the egg" situation. I'm saying that a film's success is a measure of public attitudes, and that I can measure those attitudes with the kind of test I've proposed. If someone were to have applied that same test to the Kennedy's, it would have been absurd: the Irish or Catholics had no solid barrier against them in terms of America accepting them as heroic or romantic figures in film. You'd have to find another much lesser standard. And trying to find one that blacks passed and Irish Catholics DIDN'T? Good freaking luck.

Frank said...

Gee, when was the last President of Italian heritage elected?

Let me think.....



Sometimes when we have this discussion I recall the Sopranos. Specifically Dr Malfi's ex-husband Richard LaPenna who was always about combating the negative portrayal of Italian Americans in the media.

Dagos, Palookas, Romeos, and Wise Guys he said.

I myself never noticed and have no idea if he was right or not.

What do you think? Is he right?

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of white Republicans who support Obama. They just don't make noise about it.

Steven Barnes said...

I think that Italian-Americans have definitely been on the end of more disparaging imagery (on the average) than, say, Englishmen. I think that anytime one group has disproportunate ability to shape media, the "Out" group looks worse. No argument there.

Unknown said...

Playing James Bond as a foot in the door? A character who's famous for sleeping with practically every woman he meets?

I'm with Mike Ralls, though, on the math. I think Obama could win, even if there is a significant racist minority who'd never vote for a black candidate.

Frank said...


Not to worry.

Who needs those stinkin' Hollywood images anyway?

We've Got Scalia and Thomas!

And for the record: I'm an American of Sicilian descent.

But speaking of stereotypes, I moved to this small Vermont town 20 years ago. As you may know, I'm an Engineer and I work less than a mile from home at a well-known company that is involved in Aerospace products.

Everyone in town knows this.

And still the rumors persist that I'm "connected" with the mob. When my kids were growing up and going to school, the would constantly be asked if the rumors were true. Even my own kids ask me if I have family members in the Mafia.

Go figure.

Of course, this has its good points and its bad points.....

Steven Barnes said...

Notice that people keep talking about "racist minorities." Interesting partial blindness. The morelikely truth is that humanity contains a "non-racist minority" but that about 80% of people have an aversion to the "other" ranging from mild to powerful. Maybe 10% of that is "powerful" but for most, it is subterranean, lingering, and sneakily pervasive. It's the kind of thing that makes people say PC things to pollsters, and then quietly vote another way.
Or look at a movie poster, and then just "get a feeling" that they'd rather see something else.

Pagan Topologist said...

Lynn: Yes, I think that the character is exactly what would make the 'foot in the door' possible.

I have heard white men talk about how disgusting a black man kissing a white woman was in a movie. I wish I could remember the movie. It was just overheard conversation while leaving the theatre. But I have more often heard [white, which may or may not be relevant] men express even greater disgust at a man kissing a fat woman in a movie.

Anonymous said...

On issue of death threats if about .01% of Americans are racist enough to threaten to kill a President Powell it would generate tens of thousands of death threats. I'm not sure how this balances against 20 or 30% or more non-black Americans who think he would make a much better president then any of the candidates in either party.

On the subject of entertainment as guide to the current American psyche with respect to race, my wife has a different litmus test than you do. Hers shows a widespread positive change in attitude. Her measure is the soap, "The Young and The Restless ". interracial sex is now acceptable on the show and it was not in the 1990's.

Anonymous said...

"But having a futuristic situation where you have a black man with a wife AND a husband? Interesting. But not until I’ve seen one with a girlfriend (note: you don’t get love scenes between husbands and wives very often.) doing the boy-meets, boy-loses, boy-gets routine with at least a PG-13 love scene."

Yeah, good point. More love secenes between husbands and wives would be cool (and hot) too.

Also, I'd like to see more blackbusters with the girl-meets, girl-loses, girl-gets routine in which the Mr. Right whom the heroine wants and finally gets is black.

Anyway, the future polygamy one being a sequel to the dating formula one makes more sense than the dating formula one being a sequel to the future polygamy one.

Steven Barnes said...

The white men talking about how disgustng interracial kisses are? ALL MY LIFE I've had to hear this stuff when I went to movies. Where did you think I got my idea?
Kissing fat women? No question that men react powerfully to this. A regrettable truth we might try to address at some point.
A TINY fraction of the population is racist enough and crazy enough to send hate notes to Colin Powell. But don't forget that we're not talking about the .001% of crazies. We're talking about the 80% with a "slight" aversion.
YOur wife is missing something about soap operas. That's that they are watched primarily by women. What's acceptable to women isn't exactly what's acceptable to men. But there are definitely ways that television has been more open. Others, less--for instance, how many successful (lasting for more than two seasons) dramatic series have ever had non-caucasian stars? Pitifully, pitifully few. The audience just won't support them. But they do exist.

Anonymous said...

I think I'm missing something about this whole discussion. Is having a preference for those you most closely identify with the same as having a slight aversion to others? If so its probably not 80%, butt 99%+ that have a slight aversion to everybody who's not them. If having a preference for ones own is not a slight aversion, then how do we define a slight aversion so we can measure.

Unknown said...

I believe this stuff is measured by tests like this one:, Marty.

And, yes, probably 99%+ of us have at least a slight preference for people we identify with, on some level or other, at least some of the time. But not everyone has preferences that fall along racial lines. Just a large majority of people (to at least a slight degree).

Anonymous said...

I don't think the IAT's at the site you mention accurately measure anything. When the first test I took on gender-career showed me neutral and the second test on Arab-Muslim vs European-American showed a slight preference for European-American I could say maybe, although I thought it had more to do the effect of familiarity on sorting than my in prejudices, but when I took the African-American vs European-American test and came out with a slight preference for African-Americans I became really skeptical.

Unknown said...

Some of my results on those have been weird as well; for example, a couple of years ago I came out as associated Asian faces as being more American than European ones.

I don't think they're hugely accurate in the sense that you can place lots of weight on your individual score on a given day. The site itself says that scores vary more on retest than, say, SAT scores do, and I've seen that myself, since yesterday I scored as having a moderate preference for dark skin over light, and neutral on African American vs. European American faces, but on another occasion I scored as having a moderate preference for European American over African American faces. So I can score as unprejudiced, prejudiced in the direction I'm supposed to be prejudiced in, or prejudiced in the opposite direction, depending on the test or the day.

However, if you look at the patterns of most people's scores, I think it does say something. If 70% of people taking the test prefer light skin to one degree or another, and 70% prefer Caucasian faces to one degree or another (which happens to be the way the scores fall on those particular tests), then that probably is an indicator of our level of cultural bias, even if some of it is familiarity of sorting. And if those scores should shift over time (I'm not sure they've been monitoring them enough to tell), that, too, would say something.

Given the apparently non-trivial fluctuation in test scores, though, you'd need a large enough sample for that fluctuation to fade into insignificance (and to be sure you randomize the order of the tasks, which side of the screen things are on, etc., which I think they do overall, but which things will probably affect your individual test score).

Anonymous said...

I went to the research page of the site and requested two of the papers that dealt with the validation od the technique. One paper was purely mathematical and I won't try and explain its implications, but the other dealt with a study that was done to validate the technique. The study used the racial test as its basis and had 16 participants. The paper reached the conclusion that the technique was valid because THE RESULTS OF THE STUDY AGREED WITH RESEARCHERS PRIOR EXPECTATIONS OF HOW BLACKS AND WHITES WOULD VIEW EACH OTHER. This is as scientific in my book as burning person to determine if they are a witch.

Unknown said...

I'll have to check a couple of those papers myself. Which ones did you request?

I'm wondering whether the test is really as hard to beat as they say; it seems to me that you should be able to reduce your chance of showing up as prejudiced against black people by spending a couple of minutes thinking of all the black people you like or admire (whoever they may be) before you take a test that you know is going to show you black and white faces. And the thought of those people would make it easier to associate good words with black faces (if it weren't easy already).

Lis Riba said...

Your comments about black male movie characters having sex-lives is thought-provoking.

And disturbing that the first counterexamples that come to mind are "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" (which was marketed towards a black audience) and "Blazing Saddles" (over 30 years old, thus proving the point).

If you can phrase the matter in a more pithy one-liner, I suspect it could soon appear alongside the Bechdel Test and Frank Miller Test as a way of evaluating entertainment works.

Anonymous said...

In "On Her Majesty's Secret Service", Tracy (played by Diana Rigg) does the driving. The character in the book does the driving all the way through, including the scene after the wedding --Bond is a passenger in her car--it's part of the character that she's an excellent driver. However, in the movie, they changed this so that after the wedding she's the passenger. Quite a few Bond girls drive (both hero and villain, although those who drive might end up dead in the end more often. I'll have to check that...)

I might also mention Sandra Bullock taking the wheel of a bus in the first Speed movie. Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft, Jolie again in Gone in Sixty Seconds, Charlize Theron driving a Mini in the Italian Job, Frances MacDormand driving a cop car in Fargo, Susan Sarandon in Thelma and Louise.

My vote for a black Bond--Colin Salmon.

Anonymous said...

The measure they use has a number of obvious technical problems. There are also a number of obvious ways one could shore up the procedure. If you are interested you can e-mail me at and I will reply with details. It would be too wordy and probably not of interest here.

Dave Huss said...

Couple of points I wanted to inject here if it's ok. First piece that came to mind when I caught Steve Perry's reference to this discussion was Clevon Little schtupped the socks off of Madline Kahn in Blazing Saddles and Mel Brooks made no bones about what he thought about racist pieces of shit. The second piece that jumped into mind was a pretty graphic scene with Richard Pryor and Margo Kidder in "Some Kind of Hero".
Be that as it may, I get your, and agree with your point. Here is a funny thing, I've been reading your stuff for years and had no, nor cared not a wit about your race or your gender or even if you were human. I buy your work, you got talent, and I buy more. Kind of works that way on the screen for me, too.
At least with MY wallet.
Side note, I remember Arsenic Hall when he was the hottest thing in late night, even boosted a president. When he started to get a little too racially focused and started alienating people his star nose dived pretty fast. I personally think that when you start to define yourself with something too strongly, you exclude others, and that just pisses them off. Does this excuse racist behavior, no, but I think that some of these feelings can be misconstrued when the real trigger is an individual’s overemphasis on self identity using race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, lodge affiliation..........which is always going to leave someone out.
Preaching to the Choir I know, but I'm not so sure things are not taking a slow turn for the better. The Pot melts slowly, maybe not as fast as we would like, but surely........

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