Hollywood: Beyond the Pale?

David Lawton feels it’s time to reject Hollywood’s regime of systematic oppression once and for all

Tilda Swinton as 'The Ancient One', the Himalayan sorcerer (in Dr. Strange, Marvel)

The film industry has a problem with representation. #OscarsSoWhite brought to the fore the disgusting reality of white domination in Hollywood. However, the problem affects not only awards, but also films themselves. Stonewall attracted opprobrium for whitewashing – the choice of a white male protagonist, Danny, is a classic example of a film being made more accessible to white society.

Then there is the problem of typecasting. Whilst white, straight cisgender actors are given room to explore, and are applauded for, “challenging” depictions of minority groups (think Redmayne), people of colour and minorities regularly find themselves typecast – often into stereotypical, one-dimensional roles. I hope my readers agree when I say this must stop. It is a simulacrum of white power.

The idea that a role or award should go to the most talented actor who applies for it appeals to our most liberal pretensions. It rests on the false equation that ‘meritocracy’ equals fairness. Anyone one has studied societies past or present will tell you that meritocracies never equate to equal opportunity. ‘Talent’, in any field, acting included, is never natural. Successful actors need to have been to the right schools, have the right friends, and know the right people. On top of this they often need a fair amount of Daddy’s capital invested to keep them going in an expensive city, without a regular source of income, while they try to make it. Just talent? I think not. Want to know why the film industry isn’t diverse? This is why.

Beware of anything with the word ‘natural’ preceding it. ‘Natural talent’ is a myth with a malodorous whiff of geneticism about it. Talent is created, not immaculately conceived. Creating a talent in the 21st century is expensive. Lots can and should be done to make the acting world more diverse, but these things are ultimately sticking plasters.

The root cause of this issue is economic. Whites control the means of production. Whites put the money in. Whites call the shots. Hollywood is perhaps one of the most culturally significant achievements of the American nation. This is not saying much. America was, after all, a state built upon the twin pillars of slavery and genocide. What else should one expect of it? Sure if we could reform Hollywood as a cultural institution that’d be great. But wouldn’t it be more rewarding to reject it altogether?