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Saturday, March 12, 2005

Hollywood & America's Weird Identity Issues

Earlier today I was reading through Abiola Lapite's post on Hollywood representations of inter-racial couples (specifically black male-white female couples) when I noticed an example of a trend that I've always found kind of strange; namely, the idea that Latinos are a race, separate and distinct from America's white and black populations.

The source material for this was an article on the casting of the new Will Smith movie Hitch.

Casting Will Smith’s love interest in “Hitch” was not a simple black or white decision.

Eva Mendes was given the role opposite Smith because the moviemakers were worried about the public’s reaction if the part was given to a white or an African American actress, according to Smith. The actor is saying that it was feared that a black couple would have put off worldwide audiences whereas a white/African American combo would have offended viewers in the U.S.

“There’s sort of an accepted myth that if you have two black actors, a male and a female, in the lead of a romantic comedy, that people around the world don’t want to see it,” Smith told the British paper, the Birmingham Post while promoting the flick overseas. “We spend $50-something million making this movie and the studio would think that was tough on their investment. So the idea of a black actor and a white actress comes up — that’ll work around the world, but it’s a problem in the U.S.”

Eva Mendes — who is of Cuban descent — was seen as a solution because apparently, the black/Latina combination is not considered taboo.

What is strange about this is that Eva Mendes looks, to my eyes at least, like someone of more-or-less pure European descent. The Cuban population is composed of the descendants of European (mostly Spanish) immigrants and African slaves, with various degrees of admixture. The Cuban-American population, in contrast, is overwhelmingly white, perhaps more than 90% white.

And so with Eva Mendes. I've been to Spain and, especially in Andalucia, I've seen many women there who looked quite similar to her (although she is particularly beautiful). Now, she might have some African ancestry, but she doesn't really look like it, or at least not enough that Hollywood's decision to cast her as a 'safely non-white' choice doesn't leave me scratching my head. Anyways, an example, with Eva Mendes on the left, and the Italian-American Sopranos star Drea de Matteo on the right:

I dunno, I find this all quite curious. If her name was Eva Mendezziano, would Hollywood really consider her 'non-white'?

The bigger issue, of course, is that Hollywood is still scared of pairing up black male-white female couples on the screen. It's especially pathetic considering how overtly and publicly liberal much of Hollywood is. As I said in my comment on Abiola's post, I don't doubt for a second that white (male, mostly) uncomfortableness with black male-white female relations is at the heart of this. Sure, there's probably a little bit of an element of black women being angry about white chicks 'taking our men', but every survey I've ever read on the subject has shown far far higher rates of acceptance of inter-racial couples among black Americans than among white Americans (and I'd guess that white acceptance is probably overstated anyways - racism is considered today's greatest secular sin, so probably a lot of people who dislike it keep it inside and claim they have no problem with it).

Still, though, for a group of people like Hollywood executives who are among the biggest financial contributors to liberal causes this does seem to be a pretty craven capitulation to some of America's worst tendencies. Ok, Hollywood is a business, and they don't want to scare people away, but it does seem fairly absurd to continue to follow such practices when inter-racial relationships are increasingly shown on television. For instance, on 24, which has been one of the most popular television shows in America for the last couple of years, in the third season the black president, David Palmer, had a white girlfriend named Anne, and it hardly killed the audience size for the show. I think also that Hollywood is failing to acknowledge that, even if an uncomfortably large amount of people still get bent out of shape over inter-racial couples, that won't really impact on the bottom line. If the product is good then people will go and see it. Perhaps this is more true for a thriller series like 24 than for a romantic comedy like Hitch, but still...grow some balls.

|| RPH || 1:05 AM || |