Ed. Note—This is a recurring feature about race. The opinions expressed during this conversation do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Complex Media. This month, intrepid contributor Julian Kimble and Aaron Horton of What the F*** Is Michael Jordan Wearing? discuss racism in the entertainment industry, actor Anthony Mackie's comments about dreadlocks, and millennial attitudes regarding race.
[On Sunday night, actress Viola Davis was awarded Best Female Actor in a Drama Series for her work on ABC's How to Get Away with Murder. During her acceptance speech, Davis called out Hollywood's lack of diversity, which, while well-documented, is no less grating. She also took a shot at critics who branded her a "less classically beautiful" female lead. Davis' win and words draw further attention to the larger issue: the racial dynamics entertainment industry.]
Julian: What did you think of Viola Davis' Screen Actors' Guild Awards acceptance speech?
Aaron: It was obviously very timely with the whitewashed Oscars coming up.
Julian: Not only that, but it was a big "Fuck you" to Shonda Rhimes' critics, intentional and unintentional.
Aaron: Definitely. It's crazy that these things are still issues in 2015. Not surprising, but disappointing.
Julian: It's a matter of subtle, yet noticeable racism.
Aaron: Maybe it's because I remember the year when Halle and Denzel both won Academy Awards. That shit felt like the 2008 election. Funny enough, just like people point to President Obama as a sign of progress, people did the same thing then.
Julian: In retrospect, that was eerily uncomfortable.
Aaron: No matter how many questionable white folks win awards, when a black person wins, there's always that "Did they deserve it?" vibe in the air.
Julian: Many are quick to point out the types of roles they played—Denzel, a crooked cop; Halle, a beleaguered single mother who fucks a racist. Either that, or criticism over the quality of the role played yields endless skepticism.
Aaron: Right. I mean, at least they were fictional roles. Not to take anything from biopics or period pieces, but at this point, those are the fastest paths to award consideration for black actors—playing characters that HAD to be black. It kind of relates to Viola Davis' speech.
Julian: Unless you play Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., apparently. Denzel couldn't even win for playing Malcolm X because the Academy owed Al Pacino an Oscar.
if you and I went to HBO with a show that was similar to Girls, only featuring young black dudes and a little better (no shots), do you think we'd have the ease getting it onto the air that Lena Dunham had?
Aaron: True. I should say, used to be the fastest path. Not to change gears, but Anthony Mackie said people are tired of hearing about race, so, apparently, that explains the Selma snub. So much politics that doesn't usually work out in favor of black folks, in ANY industry. As soon as decisions start being made behind closed doors by the usual suspects, we're usually excluded.
Julian: If nothing else, it's proof of some degree of uniformity across all industries. One point that Davis made that, while obvious, I liked, is that her victory and success shows people younger than her who look like her that they can do the same. Think about when we were growing up: we didn't really have those examples. There were a few, but not an abundance.
Aaron: There's so much of a burden on those who "make it," but it's important.
Julian: Yeah, so it's almost like even when you "make it," so to speak, you can never satisfy everyone.
Aaron: There's almost no point in trying. You just have to be honest with yourself and the people.
Julian: In addition to a lack of examples, African-Americans in the media also have less exposure to resources or opportunities.
Aaron: Definitely. It's kind of why I'll never speak to ill of Tyler Perry.
Julian: First off, let me just say that the first Why Did I Get Married? was unexpectedly entertaining.
Aaron: Was that the one with that dinner scene?
Julian: Yup. I watched it on TV a year after it came out on a, "Let me just watch this bullshit" tip and found myself engaged. Especially during the dinner scene.
Aaron: I stumbled on it one day. Didn't even know what I was watching at first.
Julian: Tyler Perry probably wouldn't get the flak he gets if there were more blacks in that position creating different types of content.
Aaron: Exactly. I hated the whole Spike Lee/Tyler Perry "beef" because we need both, and a whole lot more.
Julian: Exactly. I'll put it to you like this: if you and I went to HBO with a show that was similar to Girls, only featuring young black dudes and a little better (no shots), do you think we'd have the ease getting it onto the air that Lena Dunham had? And that's not a shot at her, at all.
Aaron: Not a chance. There aren't enough outlets willing to take a "chance" because all black programming is apparently so risky.... I don't know the ins and outs of the industry, but the leaked Sony emails talking about how black movies and movies with black leads don't do well overseas kind of provided some insight. It's not always outright racism, but ignorance and, of course, money that drives a lot of this.
Julian: Right, because apparently it's a struggle to market content about regular black people. Shit, if people overseas don't give a fuck about Denzel, why would anyone on the planet care about our ideas? Which brings us back to one of several things that Anthony Mackie said recently.
[During an interview with theGrio, actor Anthony Mackie addressed frustration over the Academy's overlooking of Ava DuVernay's Selma. Mackie also discussed a conversation he had with his nephew about dreadlocks and the negative perception attached to them. His comments on the latter left many upset, prompting Mackie to accuse theGrio of altering the context of his words and clarify himself. Regardless, a healthy population resents Mackie's opinion on hairstyles as much as they do his "make daddy a sandwich" remarks.]
Aaron: *sigh* Poppa Doc. People are giving Anthony Mackie the business on Twitter, but there's an Anthony Mackie in every family, at every barbershop, in every office, etc. I obviously don't agree with his opinions at all, but they aren't really that foreign.
Julian: One thing he did say that was true—and obvious—is that blacks hold little to no power in Hollywood.
Julian: It's the dreadlocks comments that set people off, though.
Not sure who I feel bad for @AnthonyMackie's backwards thinking or his PR team.— Karεn Ciѵil (@KarenCivil) January 26, 2015
Aaron: Well, it's somewhat connected to black people having little power in Hollywood and America, in general. But how do you gain power? Through acceptance by the people who hold it, or by MAKING them accept black people kind of as they are.
Julian: Let's rewind a second to the "barbershop talk" comment you made. That's the perfect analogy—hearing Mackie's initial comments is like listening to that one barbershop conversation where you want to speak up because you just can't stomach the opinion, but you know better than to get caught up in the madness.
Aaron: Yup. Because there are no real right or wrong answers so while it's good to have the conversation, it's often fruitless. We've been talking about this for decades.
Julian: I watched both videos—his original interview and the one where he attempted to straighten things out—and I understand what he's trying to say. I took it as, "Yeah, you can wear your hair like that, but just know how you'll be perceived." Which is fucked up, yet real.
Aaron: I mean, I feel like we heard similar things from our parents growing up.
Julian: We did. It's no different than "Pull your pants up and turn your hat around."
Aaron: Right, the more militant side of me says "why should that matter," but the practical part of me understands. But it's victim blaming, and, ultimately, respectability politics.
Julian: He says he assumed Chris Witherspoon would give him the Black Dude Benefit of the Doubt, but you have to explain everything today in this age of attention-grabbing headlines. He could've phrased the same thing better and looked like a genius.
Aaron: True, and celebs have habits of talking about important issues off the cuff. You've got to think hard about these things before you talk, or end up like Kendrick and Anthony Mackie.
Julian: And Pharrell.
Julian: And Young Thug, the prophet.
Julian: All Anthony Mackie had to say was, "Yeah, you can grow dreads. Shit, I had them. But know that this is how you're gonna be perceived and treated. It shouldn't be that way, but it is. With that, do what you want."
Julian: That's the thing about dreads—they can either make you look like you're a regular at the Dade County Courthouse, or an adjunct professor at a fucking Ivy League school.
Aaron: LOL, exactly.
Julian: Gotta be Richard Sherman in that scenario. Even though some people look at him and activist of the moment, Marshawn Lynch, as villains.
Aaron: Sherman walks that fine line.
Julian: Well what do you think scares people more: that Richard Sherman has dreads, or that he's a cocky, intelligent black dude with dreads?
Aaron: Cocky, intelligent, black, and loud with dreads, obviously.
Julian: No one cared when Jeremy Shockey was talking his shit with bro tats and that late-to-class, wet-haired white girl hairdo back in the day.
Aaron: LOOOL. The issues with dreads (and sagging, etc.) insinuate that people without these things are somehow more civilized. As if Bobby Shmurda didn't have a Caesar.
Julian: Precisely. It just lets you know that attitudes about race in America have only been augmented over the years.
Aaron: It's the challenge to balance perceptions vs. freedom of expression. And yeah, nothing really changes from afros to dreads.
Julian: Exactly. Racism didn't die, it evolved. Speaking of which, did you read that Al-Jazeera article about whether or not millennials (ugh, that fucking word again) are more progressive—i.e., less racist—than previous generations?
[A recent Al-Jazeera article explored whether or not the millennial generation is as "post-racial" as it fancies itself. Citing data, the piece claims that, despite their progressive attitudes, prejudice is alive and well among millennials.]
Aaron: Yeah, I read that. Not entirely surprising if you're on social media daily. There's a lot of interesting information in the article, but the general concept I got from it (and from real world experience) is that millennials really want minorities to just "get over it" despite their own personal biases and prejudices that they're pretty much ignorant of. The white privilege debates from last year crossed all generations.
Julian: And, with that, they sound like their parents and grandparents.
Aaron: Yeah, there have been some advances, although small.
Julian: Earlier, you raised the point (which is mentioned in the article) that people think Obama's two terms represent the eradication of racism in America. Nah—it just forced people to look at it from a different angle.
Aaron: It's so much deeper than what a lot of people want it to be. Racism isn't tidy; it's not something that just gets fixed.
Julian: If there was a switch that could be flipped, why would people wait until 2008 to flip it?
Aaron: I think millennials are frustrated because they were taught not to hate, and that simply not hating others makes you not racist. That's about the extent of tolerance you learn in school.
Julian: People are concerned with not appearing racist, because it could cost them LinkedIn connections, and, ultimately, money.
Julian: However, people still uphold racist ideologies and probably don't even realize it.
Aaron: It's basically built into the system its becoming one of those things where if you don't personally recognize it and and address it, you're part of the problem and don't even know it. Most injustices only continue because the masses can't bother to be concerned with them.
Julian: ...because people need to "get over it."
Aaron: It's so frustrating. I think Silicon Valley is a great example. I don't think it's so white just because the people are just so aggressively racist and exclusionary, I think they're in a bubble where they feel comfortable hiring people exactly like themselves.
Aaron: Which is a form of discrimination.
Julian: It's like that in the media, too. It isn't deliberate, it's just that people are naturally drawn to people like them.
Aaron: Right, and you have to recognize that and make sure you address it.
I think millennials are frustrated because they were taught not to hate, and that simply not hating others makes you not racist. That's about the extent of tolerance you learn in school.
Julian: And, of course, people will say, "Well, blacks do the same thing," not realizing that blacks in positions of power are just trying to do what they can to balance out that see-saw—should they care to do so.
Aaron: Not to mention the stigma of working in majority black firms. It's not like qualified white people are kicking down the doors at these places.
Julian: I believe that people want to be progressive without understanding the concept of progress or, better yet, confusing progress for change.
Aaron: And people, both white and black, don't like to make tough admissions about themselves in general.
Julian: That's very true. There's a lot of denial and finger-pointing on both sides. I'll say this, though: to some degree, races are closer together for our generation as compared to our parents or grandparents' generations.
Aaron: Yeah. Despite the article's assertions, I agree on a person-to-person basis, at least.
Julian: The article indicates some hope for us, the "Obama generation." All of us—black, white, Asian, whatever—felt Section.80 because Kendrick was speaking to things our generation can relate to on a broad level.
Julian: *bangs gavel * Exactly. But on an interpersonal level, it gets a little more complicated, and you'll find that in having conversations with people.
Aaron: Anybody willing to have the discussion is helping to make progress. Well, almost anybody.
Julian: Tired of Fox News segments where old white men tell black people what they need to d—er, "discuss race"?
Julian: So are millennials post-racial? Absolutely not, but many are more aware of some things, yet still unaware of others.
Aaron: And they have more unfiltered access to the black community than any generation.
Julian: That's because we're as fashionable as ever.
Aaron: I do think that between the recent unrest about police brutality, the thoughtful albums being released, and the success of black television shows and movies in 2014 and 2015, we may be entering some good times. We've been here before, but I'm optimistic.
Julian: I agree with that. There's a refreshing number of people of other races who "get it." To be honest, I don't even want a post-racial society—I just want an aware one. I'm not going to fool myself into thinking racism is something we can eliminate. It's not an illness that can be cured, but it can be treated.
Aaron: A little awareness would go a long way.
Is there a very racist topic you'd like Julian and Aaron to discuss in the future? Let us know about it in the comments.