Episode 19

Welcome to Leadership on Stage and Screen Lecture Podcast, Episode Nineteen.

Hollywood and Race

In 1972, a young Black man named Ron Stallworth joined the Colorado Springs police department. It was the final years of the Vietnam War, which disproportionately targeted the poor and minority communities…

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  1. You discussed how Ron Stallworth’s investigations led him to uncover people who were affiliated with the Klan or similar white supremacist organizations in the police forces, politics, and the military. Is there a similar legacy of people who were affiliated with white supremacy within the film industry?

    1. Not to the same degree. Is there a “preference” for things that appeal to white America? Yes. But there are a lot of Jewish folks in the original Hollywood, so the KKK wasn’t a big part of it beyond Griffiths.

  2. I thought it was very interesting yet very troubling to learn about how many KKK members were also police officers and I think this further explains the issues we continue to see today in 2020. I think that movies are a great opportunity to educate one another. Do you think that Hollywood and film makers have a responsibility to produce films that educate us on the past and draw attention to the injustices in society? (I am thinking of movies like Hidden Figures, Malcolm X, Just Mercy)

    1. Personally, I would like them to. But I’m also hesitant to say they MUST, given the whole freedom of speech thing. I think it’s important to pay attention to the ramifications of what we create, even if the particular story we’re telling isn’t focused on justice, we do have an ethical obligation to not do more harm.

  3. You said that Ron Stallworth was involved in writing the screenplay “BlacKkKlansman,” which gave him the agency to tell his story, even if there was an added Hollywood flair. How can that be preserved when we are writing stories, movies and shows about people posthumously?

  4. This wasn’t explicitly talked about in the podcast but it is a question I have been wondering for a while: How do movies like Blackkklansman and Malcolm X deal with the fact that the people who would learn the most from watching these movies probably won’t ever watch them. Racist cops are not going to sit down in their living room to watch the story of how a black cop infiltrated the KKK and revealed racism within his department. I guess this has to do with marketing of a film, but I am curious if this is a topic of conversation in the movie production process.

    1. This is a big issue. One of the reasons BlackkKlansman was marketed as a buddy-cop comedy probably was to get some folks in the door who wouldn’t otherwise go. But aside from that, I think it’s much more about using more “mainstream” films to include messages of inclusivity… like in the MCU.

  5. How did movies in the 1970s portray the police, the Vietnam war, or even the KKK? What role did the movie industry play during that time period when it came to upholding white supremacy and nationalism?

    1. So Hollywood in general wasn’t super supportive of the Vietnam War, although there were a handful of propaganda films. In the aftermath, there was a decade from 1979-1989 of Vietnam War movies that were VERY anti-war (although sympathetic to veterans).
      Hollywood wasn’t (after Griffiths, really) explicitly white supremacist so much as it was white dominated–the “mainstream” audience, and therefore the actors, etc., were majority white, but not explicitly anti-Black. There were quite a few Black-focused films (Patrice in BK actually talks about several of them in the movie), the beginning of the legacy that Lee is following, but they weren’t given the kinds of budgets that white films got because they weren’t viewed as likely to bring in a lot of money.

  6. I remember in my FYS, my professor said, “stories matter because the people in them matter”. You mentioned that our society doesn’t want to see the same story again (about the white male protagonist that ends up with the blond girl, for example). I know that there’s a large diversity issue within the entertainment industry itself, but I’m curious to know to what extent stories like these will continue to affect our society (and people’s opinions on issues of race in the US). But, going off of Quinn’s question, they are targeting general audiences, but how do you reach (and get through to) the people who need to hear these stories most?

    1. Well, SOME people in society don’t want the same old stories. But there will always be 18-35-year-old-straight-white-men, so some people will want to see those stories… in large part because they haven’t seen them all already, where those of us who have been around the sun a few more times are sick of them. 🙂
      I’d say we get to the people who need those messages by hiding them better–we bury them in blockbusters, like Black Panther (okay, not buried so much) and the MCU so that mainstream audiences get slowly used to it. Like having a Black president in 24.

  7. While white supremacy may not exist overtly in Hollywood today, there is still a strong sense of a white stranglehold on the industry. What kind of effects do things like the Oscar’s boycott by a lot of prominent black actors and directors, including Spike Lee, have on on the bigger picture?

    1. It definitely led to more Black-led, Black-directed films getting green-lit. Progress is happening, although not at the pace that a lot of folks (me included) would like. The problem now is that we’re seeing a subset of people being used over and over again: Ryan Coogler, Spike Lee, Denzel and JB, Mahershala, Octavia Spencer… the same Black actors. There is a lot more variety in white actors than in Black ones… and in order to really get at the right “distribution,” Hollywood needs to recognize that more PEOPLE, not just more films, is better.

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