Nothing Happens Unless White Folks Say So

redhook summerJames Mcbride, co-writer of Spike Lee’s ‘Red Hook Summer,’ has penned a pull-no-punches open letter to Hollywood, detailing some serious issues on race and representation in cinema, and what it means to be a storyteller in an overtly commercial studio system. Via Colorlines.

The reviews for Spike Lee’s film “Red Hook Summer” that premiered at Sundance earlier this week have not been good. His comments made after the premiere about Hollywood studios knowing “nothing about black people” made more headlines than the actual film.

An open letter published yesterday by “Red Hook” co-writer, James McBride, is sure to make even more headlines because he takes the film community to task and says “nothing in this world happens unless white folks says it happens.”

Below is an excerpt from McBride’s open letter on the 40 Acres and a Mule website:

Three days ago, at the premiere of “Red Hook Summer” at The Sundance Film Festival, Spike, usually a cool and widely accepting soul whose professional life is as racially diverse as any American I know- lost his cool for 30 seconds. When prompted by a question from Chris Rock who was seated in the audience, he blurted out a small, clear truth: He said one reason we did “Red Hook Summer” independently was because he could not get Hollywood to green light the follow-up to “Inside Man” – which cost only $45 million to make and grossed a whopping $184,376,240 million domestically and worldwide – plus another $37 million domestically on DVD sales. Within minutes, the internet lit up with burning personal criticism of him stitched into negative reviews of “Red Hook Summer” by so-called film critics and tweeters. I don’t mind negative reviews. That’s life in the big leagues. But it’s the same old double standard. The recent success of “Red Tails” which depicts the story of the all black Tuskegee Airmen, is a clear example. Our last film, “Miracle At St. Anna,” which paid homage to the all-black 92nd Division, which fought on the ground in Italy, was blasted before it even got out the gate. Maybe it’s a terrible film. Maybe it deserved to bomb. The difference is this: When George Lucas complained publicly about the fact that he had to finance his own film because Hollywood executives told him they didn’t know how to market a black film, no one called him a fanatic. But when Spike Lee says it, he’s a racist militant and a malcontent. Spike’s been saying the same thing for 25 years. And he had to go to Italy to raise money for a film that honors American soldiers, because unlike Lucas, he’s not a billionaire. He couldn’t reach in his pocket to create, produce, market, and promote his film like Lucas did with “Red Tails.”

But there’s a deeper, even more critical element here , because it’s the same old story: Nothing in this world happens unless white folks says it happens. And therein lies the problem of being a professional black storyteller- writer, musician, filmmaker. Being black is like serving as Hoke, the driver in “Driving Miss Daisy,” except it’s a kind of TV series lasts the rest of your life: You get to drive the well-meaning boss to and fro, you love that boss, your lives are stitched together, but only when the boss decides your story intersects with his or her life is your story valid. Because you’re a kind of cultural maid. You serve up the music, the life, the pain, the spirituality. You clean house. Take the kids to school. You serve the eggs and pour the coffee. And for your efforts the white folks thank you. They pay you a little. They ask about your kids. Then they jump into the swimming pool and you go home to your life on the outside, whatever it is. And if lucky you get to be the wise old black sage that drops pearls of wisdom, the wise old poet or bluesman who says ‘I been buked and scorned,’ and you heal the white folks, when in fact you can’t heal anybody. In fact, you’re actually as dumb as they are, dumber maybe, because you played into the whole business. Robbing a character of their full dimension, be it in fiction or non fiction, hurts everyone the world over. Need proof? Ask any Native American, Asian, Latino, Gay American, or so called white “hillbilly.” As if hillbillies don’t read books, and Asians don’t rap, and Muslims don’t argue about the cost of a brake job.

Read the letter in it’s entirety on 40 Acres and a Mule

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  • Eric_D_Read

    As long as we’re stoking racial tensions and the topic is the Hollywood establishment; shouldn’t the title of this article be “Nothing Happens Unless Rich Jews Say So” ?

    • Jin The Ninja

       stoking racial tensions?

      and the headline is not mine it’s from colourlines, and is in no way racist, though your “correction” is.

      and if you had actually bothered to READ the article, the author (McBride) discusses his jewish mother, and being biracial- as well as telling the stories of “hillybillies” (referring here to the filmic ‘archetype’ of the un read rural folk or working class people, supportive of them- certainly not deragatory).

      • Eric_D_Read

        1. I never said the headline was yours.
        2. I did read the article. 
        3. If my (somewhat) tongue-in-cheek headline correction is racist, then the original is too. To assert otherwise requires some serious mental gymnastics.

        • Misterfurious1

          Your posts are on this topic are some of the most ignorant I’ve read on disinfo. It takes more “mental gymnastics” to argue that the headline or article is racist than it does to say it isn’t. It’s pretty obvious that in Hollywood, minorities of all stripes take a backseat in all aspects of the business (from the characters in the movies to the people making them). This isn’t a racist comment. It’s a fact. 

          • Jin The Ninja

            thank you!

          • Eric_D_Read

            Spike Lee’s whole career refutes your “fact”. 

            The guy is a hack who’s made a fortune marketing the narrative that going to see one of his shitty movies is an act of rebellion against the dreaded White Establishment.

          • Jin The Ninja

            isn`t it a fact though, that going to see movies that feature a non-white or alternative narrative, is in fact- against the established studio system? -yes it is.

            and neither hollywood nor popular american culture have sole ownership over filmic storytelling and cinema as a medium.

          • Eric_D_Read

            “isn`t it a fact though, that going to see movies that feature a non-white or alternative narrative, is in fact- against the established studio system? -yes it is.”
            You’ll have to explain to me what exactly a “white narrative” is before I can answer that question.

            “and neither hollywood nor popular american culture have sole ownership over filmic storytelling and cinema as a medium.”

            I’d consider that a good thing. McBride and Lee seem to think otherwise since the entire point of the article is to bitch about the fact that Hollywood wouldn’t finance their movie.

          • Jin The Ninja

            but 90% of movies made in america are under the studio system. it is very difficult to get outside financing of films, particularly those that engage in alternative narratives.

            note: i said ALTERNATIVE or non-white narratives, i did NOT posit that the mainstream narratives are “white” rather they depict a predmoninantly white american upper-middle class. Any first year cinema studies student learns that in their david bordwell textbook.

          • Tuna Ghost

            Holy god you’re an idiot

          • Jin The Ninja

            glad to have a compatriot in that belief.

          • Misterfurious1

            Yeah, Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, Clockers, Inside Man, 25th Hour, Summer of Sam and Bamboozled all reflect the work of a hack….Give me a break. It’s pretty clear where your motivations on this subject lie…..

        • Jin The Ninja

          The title maybe inflammatory, but the context in the original article is not.

          If you read the article i am not sure how you could disagree with the premise that hollywood makes only certain kinds of stories of certain kinds of people.

          • Eric_D_Read

            I’m disagreeing with the premise that it has anything to do with racism. Hollywood is about profits (and social engineering but that’s whole other can of worms). 

            As McBride is the co-writer of this film, his open letter on Lee’s site is nothing more than the same old tired PR/marketing/advertising scheme that Spike has been cashing in on for 25 years.

            Since I passionately agree with the late great Bill Hicks on advertising and marketing; I’ll leave off with this: 

            An Open Letter to James McBride and Spike Lee;

            Kill yourselves. No, really. This is not a joke. Suck a tailpipe. Hang yourself. Borrow a gun from you Crip friends. I don’t care how you do it. Rid the world of your evil machinations.

            Just trying to plant seeds.

            Sincerely;
            Eric_D_Read

          • Jin The Ninja

             again, you can say inflammatory things in your own posts, but it really has no bearing on an atcually interesting and very ecumenical article on race and representation, which is an issue of racism or at the very least, the “whitewashing” of american popular culture. why should the viewing public be beholden to a studio system whose stories don’t even reflect middle or working class “white” people? the rise of open internet and filesharing (and the subsequent machinations designed to destroy it) should tell you, that the audience whomever they may be is not truely invested in this stale, outmoded system of film production, that’s what the article is really saying.

          • Eric_D_Read

            Then why are they whining that the evil studio system wouldn’t finance their movie? THAT”S what the article is really saying.

            You can’t truly be a revolutionary if the establishment is bankrolling you.

          • Jin The Ninja

            except that they didn’t bankroll this film, and they do not bankroll films outside of an accepted narrative, which is unrepresentative of the demographics of america.

            no you cannot be revolutionary if the establishment is bankrolling you, but you can’t be revolutionary in a system that is controlled by a group/system of studio heads who also control distribution and intellectual properties.

          • Misterfurious1

            What I find interesting is that you imply that you believe Hollywood has an agenda that includes “social engineering” and yet you don’t believe that that exact goal of “social engineering” is a white, upper-middle class ideal. The protagonists in movies like Transformers or Batman or Tron or Avatar or John Carter or This Means War or The Vow will never be black, asian, hispanic, poor, muslim, etc. The reason why this is a problem is because you say Hollywood is about profits but these groups like to spend money to watch movies as much as upper-middle class white people do and yet they ratio of representation in cinema (both on screen and off) is woefully short of the reality. This certainly doesn’t seem to be merely about “profits.” 

            For example, 33-percent of this country is Hispanic… and yet I’d bet that not even 5-percent of all the characters in Hollywood films (much less the protagonists) are Hispanic. You have movies like The Last Airbender, which is based off a property of overwhelmingly Asian characters and yet when Hollywood gets a hold of it, it’s suddenly a bunch of white kids fighting the darkies… as usual. 

            My favorite movie of last year: Attack the Block, about a bunch of poor black kids in the projects fighting off an alien horde. This movie was made… in England. Fuck me. Or, better yet, fuck you and fuck Hollywood. 

          • Jin The Ninja

            i absolutely loved attack the block, best pic of the year i’d say!

            you were pissed about aang being a little white dude too?  i was especially annoyed tthat he inuit/artic indigenous kids were totally disregarded and made into white kids with native-esque haircuts and clothes. very poor choice.

          • Misterfurious1

            Yeah, I don’t know if “pissed” is the right word. I was more just, I don’t, profoundly baffled(?) by the whole thing. You have a very profitable property that already has a strong, developed, fervent fan-base although none of the characters (that I can remember) are white (thereby proving that having minority protagonists/primary characters doesn’t necessarily mean white kids won’t watch it) and you have a minority director at the helm and yet suddenly all those same, beloved heroes are white. 

            It was fitting that the movie bombed, again proving that white primary characters don’t necessarily translate into money. 

          • Jin The Ninja

            personally, i was pissed, but also baffled. even the creator (whom is white) subtley pointed out several times in interviews (pre production of movie) that the setting is an asian/indigenous world (as are the characters that inhabit it).

            you should post more often, i find myself enjoying your posts-whether in agreement or disagreement.
             

          • Misterfurious1

            Thanks for the good words, Jin. I post here more often than it seems, because I’m extraordinarily lazy and don’t always care to log into my disquss account, in which I post as senorchupacabra. But, also, I don’t always feel like arguing with people aren’t going to agree with me (and whom I’m never going to agree with) no matter what I type. I have to be in the proper mood, I suppose….

        • Jin The Ninja

          and race and representation in cinema has been an academic issue since at least the 1930s, and is well-documented in portraying the ‘other’ in a racist stereotypical manner, and because Hollywood is a corporate studio system run predominantly by white men (and a very small number of white women), the title really isn’t “racist” – if you understood what racism means.

          • Hadrian999

             even when it isn’t derogatory it is still bad for minorities, you almost never see a asian man or native american or a black man playing characters that aren’t based on race, the asian man is a martial arts master or a techie or a hard as nails gun slinger straight out of a Woo flick, the native  american is either an expert tracker of shaman and the black man is always “urban” or depends on his race for his character, you rarely see them just playing a character that isn’t linked to or dependent on race, white actors get to play characters that don’t depend on their whiteness for the character

          • Jin The Ninja

            you perfectly summarised the arguement, i couldn’t agree with you more.

          • Eric_D_Read

            That’s not entirely true, even in big budget blockbusters. 

            Take Will Smith’s characters in “Independence Day” and “I Am Legend”. He plays an elite fighter pilot (which I hear remain one of the whitest positions in the military) and a scientist, which, according to racial stereotypes, should be played by a WASP, a Jew, or an Asian.

            There is also Denzel Washington, who has played characters in “Man on Fire” and “The Book of Eli” that were in no way based around his “urban” cred.While a lot of stereotyping does exist in La-La Land, it is far more a result of creative laziness than racism.

            Besides, those stereotypes have done a lot of genuine good when it comes to bridging divisions among racial groups. 

            Example: Right up through the 60s, there was zero chance an Asian man could hope to have a leading role in an American film. Then Bruce Lee came along and shattered that barrier with   a lunging side kick. As a result, many rural, culturally isolated white kids (like moi) grew up glued to “Kung Fu Theater” on rainy Saturdays when mom wouldn’t let us play outside. I never thought twice about the fact that the fucking awesome movies I was watching were filled with none-white actors. I just thought, using the refined standards of a seven-year-old, those movies, and the characters being portrayed, fucking rocked!

            Now if Bruce Lee hadn’t been around to create that damaging racial stereotype of the Asian martial arts master, American men wouldn’t have a ton of Jackie Chan movies to drag our girlfriends to in revenge for making us sit through “Titanic” or whatever piece-of-shit romcom they drug us to last.

            Among other cinematic sins of abolishing stereotypes:

            13 Assassins either doesn’t get made, or doesn’t get shown in the U.S..

            We never find out that Samuel L Jackson can say “motherfucker” better than any other human being on the planet.

            Danny Trejo would probably be wasting his cinematic talents as either a drug counselor to middle class white kids who got caught with pot or some other dead-end job instead of being the cult legend that he deserves to be.

          • Hadrian999

             once stars become bankable they get to do as they want generally, that doesn’t change the fact that a majority of parts played by non-white actors are cookie cutter roles

          • Liam_McGonagle

            ” . . . once stars become bankable they get to do as they want generally . . .”

            True.  Generally.  My guess is that is why Lee is particularly exercised about this issue.  It does seem like it shouldn’t be THIS difficult for a guy of his stature to pull off a project.

            Even Woody Allen gets to crap out a new vanity project every couple of years, and his track record seems a lot dicier than Lee’s.

            Not that I don’t like Allen’s stuff.  Or some bits here and there, anyhow, but you know what I mean.

          • Eric_D_Read

            The majority of parts played by all actors are cookie cutter roles.

          • Tuna Ghost

            the fact that you had to pick the two most famous black actors’ roles from just a few films sort of proves his point, guy.  

          • Eric_D_Read

            All that proves is that I read his comment and picked the first two examples that popped into my head. Total time spent: 30 seconds.

            If I wanted to spend all day yesterday researching the subject, I’d come up with a much longer list. 

            But, I had to run off to the secret White Devil meeting for the roasted black orphan buffet and to help scheme up new ways to keep tha brothas down. (twirls villainous mustache) MUUAAAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

          • Jin The Ninja

             The “Brotha” you are referrring to, moron, is Bi Racial- your narrow middle american conceptions of race are becoming increasingly racist with every post. Good Work.

          • Eric_D_Read
          • Jin The Ninja

            And in what way is a heteronormative cis-gendered male, white comedian’s views on cinema valid to a discussion of race and representation in cinema when he himself has a racist connotation in his work? oh right, they aren’t. nice try though;) Look up the concept of ‘agency.’ you’d really learn something.

          • Jin The Ninja

             Your critique of Bruce Lee in regards to cinema studies is demonstrably wrong. He was considered a counter cultural icon for black and latino nationalism, as well as one of the first asian male heroes for his role as Kato,and subsequent films all of which recieved major release in the US, but HK financed and produced.

            The fact that you as a white male did not recognise Bruce as a non-white hero or anti hero who broke the stereotype of the fu manchu or the charlie chan demonstrates volumes about your understanding og cinema and illustrates my point perfectly.

            13 Assassins was Chinese financed. nice try though.

          • Liam_McGonagle

            ” . . . you almost never see a asian man or native american or a black man playing characters that aren’t based on race . . .”

            Very true.

            ” . . . white actors get to play characters that don’t depend on their whiteness for the character.”

            Mostly, but not invariably true.

            http://gcaggiano.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/6_johnwayne.jpg

            John Wayne (aka Marion O Muirgheasa, in Irish) in the title role of “Genghis Khan”, widely regarded as the single most risably bad film in the history of the studio system.

            Sorry, I didn’t disagree with a word you said.  And while it’s probably an unforgivable distraction from the serious and legitimate discussion at hand, I felt a duty to gratuitously reiterate the farcical character of mainstream films in general.

          • Hadrian999

            I didn’t mean white actors don’t play stereotyped white characters only that there is plenty of work for white actors not playing ethnically charged parts. If a white man plays a cop or an accountant or whatever he is generally just playing a cop or an accountant, if an non-white plays a cop or accountant it is generally linked to ethnicity in some way

          • Liam_McGonagle

            I get you.  I get you.  Our cultural baseline is very specific in its assumption of a white norm, so those are the actors who get the widest range of roles.  I think that should be clear to everyone.

            I was just pointing out, maybe a little gratuitously, that Hollywood’s not all that it’s cracked up to be in general.

            I realize that’s cold comfort to someone like Lee who’s paid his dues and naturally expects some results.  But it’s still true.

          • Jin The Ninja

            i also totally agree with what you and hadrian have said above, the genghis khan matter is another infuriating instance of white playing ethnic. which has been the h-wood goto for 70 years.

          • Hadrian999

             i believe john wayne shouldn’t have been allowed to play most the parts he played

          • Jin The Ninja

            lol- why not? western is not a genre i have familiarity with (even in passing), but i have always assumed that JW’s movies were better than most?

          • Hadrian999

             he was capable of much better than he usually got away with, if he was under pressure to do better he might have put on more performances on the scale of true grit, or my favorite Wayne film “the quiet man”

          • Eric_D_Read

            “the title really isn’t “racist” – if you understood what racism means.”
            That’s a very SOPHISTicated argument. Kind of like how bankers say that everyone who is against the infallible hand of the market “just don’t understand” how it works.

          • Jin The Ninja

            explain to me EXACTLY how a bi-racial man, writing about a notably and well-documented racist studio film system, is being racist, and against whom?

          • Eric_D_Read

            His headline classifies white people as some monolithic group that, if you were to substitute any other group identity for “white”, would be considered racist and/or discriminatory.  
            It really is that simple.Especially when you consider the centralized system of Hollywood film studios and how few people really make the decisions on what films will get funded vs what filmmakers have to look elsewhere for their funding. How many people do you really think make the decisions about what films get funded in H-wood? A few dozen maybe, if that? I’m sure for every Spike Lee there are several white filmmakers with solid movie ideas that get told to piss off as well. They just can’t cry “Racist!” to get attention like ol’ Spike can. In that sense, his race is an advantage. 

          • Jin The Ninja

             It really ISN’T that simple, because reverse racism (which is your implication) doesn’t exist, cannot exist and is fundamentally opposite the notion of racism which utilises legal, insitutitional and cultural practice to disenfranchise a minority group. “White America” refers to a cultural and legal practice. It doesn’t refer to a “monolithic group,” and if it does refer to those simply of caucasian ancestry James McBride, would in fact, be included in said group. And you cannot implicate yourself as racist against your own racial group. the idea of which is ridiculous. You are right in your assertion that thousands of filmmakers are denied the ability to attain funding BUT again, eric, you are ignoring the problem i have engaged with dozens of times, in favour of your own mental gymnastics, which is- that HOLLYWOOD has a LONG and well-documented history of racist, racialist, stereotypical filmmaking and DOES NOT by and large make movies that feature alternative narratives. To ignore a very well-documented area of cinema studies is -anti intellectual.

          • Eric_D_Read

            rac·ism/ˈrāˌsizəm/
            Noun:The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, esp. so as to distinguish it as…
            Prejudice or discrimination directed against someone of a different race based on such a belief.

          • Jin The Ninja

            all correct, but the dictionary defintion is merely cursory and the academic defintion requires structural support of said belief.

            You really aren’t doing yourself any favours Eric, it’s not a racist article, hollywood is racist, Mcbride is Bi-Racial which means he has a multi-layered identity that allows him to validly critique a cultural feature without identifying a cultural group of which white people are not. And furthermore People of Colour do not have the institutional or historical legacy of racism, which as i noted, requires systemic practice.

          • Eric_D_Read

            Fuck that “reverse” racism bullshit. Racism is racism, and it doesn’t require that one be the statistical minority group for it to be what it fucking is. For someone who seems to be as obsessed with racism as Joe McCarthy was with communism, you should check the definition I linked for you. The word does not mean what you think it means.

            That said, I never said McBride was a racist; I said his headline stoked racial tensions. 

          • Jin The Ninja

            Actually it does. And it wasn’t his headline. But I LOVE that you think so, it simply proves you didn’t read the article in it’s entirety and thus have no valid points on which to base your racist opinions;)

          • Jin The Ninja

            I’m multi-racial, so i am only interested in exploring concepts of identity, it’s you whom has defended a racist systemic practice long identified in Cinema Studies.
            Positing that i am akin to a political oppurtunist whom seized on the lack of critical american discourse (actually that sounds like you), is laughable-since i am anti racist, anti fascist and interested in the conclusions of those ideologies in regards to race and it’s constructions in western culture.

          • Jin The Ninja

            We obviously will never agree, but you should read Hadrian’s/Liam’s posts on this article. There are two examples of how to acknowledge discrepency in this context in a very clear and concise way, without the baggage you seem to believe i carry because of my obviously ‘asian’ screenname and my admittedly multi racial background. You can be white, male and hetero-normative AND aware of inequalities in race and gender. It made me very proud to be part of a disinfo community that recognizes issues of race and has the ability to discuss those things in a straightforward and cogent way without resorting to the protectionism and reverse racism at which you futily grasp.

          • Jin The Ninja

            and ‘white’ people are neither a minority culture or racial group, and the precendence of american history has been to enact racist legal and social policies against non white groups. that is a key component of a definition of racism. white people don’t need protecting, and again James McBride is BIRACIAL, such as i am, with both ‘white’ and ‘non white’ elements and identities. we cannot fundamentally be racist against our own identities.

        • Jin The Ninja

          double post.

  • Hadrian999

    hollywood is about making money, if you aren’t making blockbuster or some sappy oscar-bait film they don’t want to know you. spike lee has found a way around it, the outrage marketing scheme, he’s a smart guy, he uses his persona to sell the equivalent of student film projects.

    • Jin The Ninja

      spike`s filmmaking ability certainly has not improved with time or age, but he has made some classic films in his day.

  • KREET-n SLAVE

    All hail our great and wondrous lords! I’m white as fuck but it don’t matter a fuck to them folks in the suits…it’s not about the color of your skin…its about the depth of your bow to them…all of their power is derived from control over the currency which magically appears when ever they need it and they break you off a piece for some labor or an idea or your soul which, as you become more desperate to provide for yourself in this world (not to mention your family) the price of your soul goes down down down!
    I would rather die in the street then be associated with Hollywood.  I would rather be poor and eat beans than promote the ideologies of corporations…but they are busy heading you off at the pass…they know your pride and they are prepared to use it against you as soon as they meet you.  DROP OUT QUIT HOLD OUT RUN! When you realize that there’s nowhere to run to…that our sovereignty as a people has been usurped by the moneyed interests and their various forms…shape shifting reptilian psychopathic “professionals” you will want to kill them…but thats what they want…they have prison for you…so welcome to the mind war
    WHAT SIDE ARE YOU ON?

    • Taan Maat

      “You have to let it all go, Neo…fear…doubt and disbelief…. Free your mind!”

  • http://www.facebook.com/JaySBR Alex Cull

    It does not matter what color your skin is, there’s only one important color, and that color is black. Everyone wants that little black line to keep going up. And that’s all that matters to those who lust for that black line

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/WASII6OPBCHRKD4S4GM24EOLCI J

    DAMNIT disinfo. WHAT HAPPEND? to the alternative good reporting? Now it seems as though you guys are just out to invoke certain feelings through ridiculoud articles. I know you all can do better that. SO I ask what is really going on?????!

    • Jin The Ninja

       what are YOU talking about?

      i posted this article because it is relevant to culture and media in the modern world.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/WASII6OPBCHRKD4S4GM24EOLCI J

        You know what.Your right..I just let loose on this one my bad . Good Article man.

  • Jethropem

    ‘Selling out’ isn’t a black phenomenon. 

  • tooCents

    I’m sitting here so powerful, more than the president. Suck white my balls, you racist article title.

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