Raybon Kan: Evil empire of white Hollywood

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Oscar controversy makes it clear non-white faces must be put on screen so they’re not surprising any more.
John Boyega’s unmasking in Star Wars: The Force Awakens sent the racist internet into a frenzy. Photo / Lucasfilm Ltd
John Boyega’s unmasking in Star Wars: The Force Awakens sent the racist internet into a frenzy. Photo / Lucasfilm Ltd

I'm not attending the Oscars this year. But I want to hear what Chris Rock will say.

Is racism a thing? You betcha. Did you notice the crazy reaction online to the trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens - when the stormtrooper, panting, takes off his helmet to reveal the man underneath is black? The racist internet lost its mind.

Wookiee, fine. Whatever Yoda is, fine. Homosexual golden robot, fine. A black person? We don't serve your kind in here.

The objection was that the Evil Empire (I know, it's the First Order) would be too evil to have a diversity policy. (Even though Darth Vader clearly had a vocal presence as black as Barry White singing Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Babe.)

When the stormtrooper took his helmet off, what we noticed was John Boyega's race.

(New Zealanders, of course, expect all stormtroopers to be clones of Temuera Morrison, but maybe the cloning copyright lapsed with the explosion of the Death Star.)

The reveal of John Boyega's face was a moment of surprise. But - he's not white. Does not compute. Put the white helmet back on!

Which goes to show how ingrained the white face is in Hollywood movies. The white face is default. Anything else is jarring and needs to be justified.

So for two years in a row, all 20 of the Oscar nominees for acting are white. (They also all speaka da English, but that's the planet for you.) The nominees reflect the historical whiteness of Hollywood movies. America was and is a segregated society.

"The reveal of John Boyega's face was a moment of surprise. But - he's not white. Does not compute. Put the white helmet back on!" Photo / AP
"The reveal of John Boyega's face was a moment of surprise. But - he's not white. Does not compute. Put the white helmet back on!" Photo / AP

And segregated white Hollywood has colonised the world, the way Barbie has colonised your dollhouse, the way Spider-Man colonised your comics. We eat what we're fed, and we are what we eat.

The high school in Grease was all white. It made more sense for Olivia Newton-John, a white Australian girl, to get on the roll at Rydell High than for any non-white American. (Fair enough, this was the 50s, after all.)

Superman comes from another planet, but he has white skin and blue eyes. Jesus, Moses, Cleopatra and the whole gang often have the bluest eyes in the Middle East. We've all grown up with it, whatever colour you happen to be. And those influences are hard to shake.

The breakthrough with the #OscarsSoWhite campaign is that now we can notice it and argue against it without shame. Previously, there was a kind of victim blaming: if we're not in movies, there must be something wrong with us.

One of my favourite films ever is Bowfinger, the 1999 comedy starring Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy.

Eddie Murphy plays an action superstar who's a Scientologist (in the film, they call it Mindhead) and who craves an Oscar. In one hilarious scene, he's talking to his white agent.

"White boys get all the Oscars, it's just a fact. Did I get a nomination? No, and you know why? Cos I ain't playing none of them slave roles, and get my ass whipped. That's when you get the nomination.

Black dude play a slave role, get his ass whipped, you get a nomination. White boy, play an idiot, they get the Oscar. Find me a script as a retarded slave, I'll get the Oscar. Find that script. Buck the Wonder Slave."

Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy star in Bowfinger. Photo / Supplied
Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy star in Bowfinger. Photo / Supplied

If black skin is (let's say) 15 per cent of the American population, then, arguably, one in six roles in Hollywood movies should be black.

If all roles are equally well written and equally well acted, then that should be one in six Oscar nominees. Zero is not even close. But the fault goes back to the movies that are made. The non-white faces have to be put out there so they're not surprising any more.

Asians (and by this I mean people of kung fu, as opposed to people of cricket) are a good two billion of the world's population.

If Asians (however defined) make up, say, 5 per cent of America, then that's one role in 20. We don't need Google to conclude that we don't see one Asian nominee per year.

In no way does Hollywood's output reflect the population of America. Similarly, in no way does Home and Away, or Neighbours, reflect Australia.

If you watch those soaps, Australia is a Scandinavian country enclosed by a glass dome, occasionally lifted to allow the surf to come in. Similarly, Shortland Street doesn't reflect Auckland, and definitely not Auckland's healthcare sector.

It is a bizarro parallel universe in which not one doctor is Asian. I suspect Shortland Street is secretly science fiction.

- NZ Herald

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