60 Years Later, Same Questions Still Being Asked

I had a brief Twitter discussion the other day in regards to Will Smith’s later feature film titled “Focus.” Based off the trailer, Smith plays some sort of con man and brings in a young woman (Margot Robbie) under his wing, who together they try to swindle the wrong guy and all hell breaks loose. Being that this is Hollywood, it seems fitting that Smith’s character and Robbie’s have some romantic dealings with each other over the course of the film.

What’s striking about this to me is that once again Will Smith, one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood, (save for a few duds) has a white woman as his romantic interest. Some of you may be reading this wondering what exactly is the problem with this in 2015? The problem is that we still see far too few examples of black men and women loving each other in major Hollywood motion pictures.

Will Smith himself lamented about this very issue 10 years ago when the film “Hitch” was released. In that film, Smith plays an elite level matchmaker who meets his equal in his female counterpart played by Eva Mendes. Smith said something along the lines that Eva Mendes was chosen as his love interest because had they cast a white woman in the role, it may not have gone over too well here in the States, and had a black woman been cast, the movie might not do well in Europe with two black leads. So the studio decided to play Solomon and chose a Latina instead.

This has been an issue time and again in Hollywood and it’s something that still persists at a time when the Oscars are as white as they’ve ever been going back to 1998. I remember Gina Prince-Bythewood mentioned that when she was originally pitching her 2014 film “Beyond The Lights” to some of the major studios, they pushed her on why did she have to have two black leads. Why couldn’t she just cast Channing Tatum in the role that ultimately went to Nate Parker?

It’s questions like these that bring me to the photo above. It’s a magazine cover from 1955 depicting Harry Belafonte and the magnificent Dorothy Dandridge. ‘When Will Hollywood Let Negroes Make Love,’ was the pertinent question at the time. 60 years later, the answers aren’t any more clear.

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