Monday, November 18, 2013

It'll Never Fly

In her article "'The Best Man Holiday' And The Language Of Expectations," Linda Holmes points out the following:

As Lucas Shaw wrote yesterday for The Wrap, [The Best Man Holiday] joins 12 Years A Slave, The Butler, and other films from black filmmakers that have somehow surprised people with their success.
She then goes on to ponder why even the president of distribution at Universal, Nikki Rocco, wouldn't have expected this movie to open as strongly as it did, to quote Ms Rocco, "in my most non-lucid moment." And then she starts to ask why. Well, I, of course, have theory about that.

The TV Tropes entry for "Viewers are Morons" ends with the following understanding of what media executives think of their audiences: "not only are viewers stupid, they are also intolerant of people and things unlike themselves, ignorant, hate change, need to be instantly satisfied, and have the attention span of a goldfish."

I've made the comment before that in my opinion, one of the most enduring legacies of racism in the United States is the expectation of racism. Not only do Blacks and other minorities often expect Whites to engage in racist attitudes and behaviors, but Whites often expect racist attitudes and behaviors from one another. This applies itself in media. Whites are still the single largest demographic in the United States. If you assume that they will be largely disinterested in any movie where the primary characters are mainly non-Whites, it's easier to come to the conclusion that a movie with a largely Black or Hispanic or Asian cast is simply not going to do very well. Because well, Whites are intolerant of people unlike themselves. And so you wind up with, as Ms. Holmes puts it: "Analysts once again underestimate the box-office appeal of a movie about black people." (Which, in itself is indicative of another aspect of this - we don't commonly consider movies with few or no visible minorities in them to be "movies about white people." They're just movies. But if you think if White maleness as, rather than being simply one identity out of many, as the default position, and everything is a departure from that, becomes clear why USA Today called The Best Man Holiday "race-themed.")

Now the fact that Whites are considered to be poor candidates to see this movie is only part of the story. There's also likely an expectation that many Blacks will pass on seeing it. In part because The Best Man Holiday is a romantic comedy, and rom-coms are often considered to be Something White People Like. Which is often understood as Something Only White People Like. Which then casts Blacks as intolerant of people unlike themselves. But despite the fact that Black culture is somewhat different from White culture, their ideas of what constitutes romance and/or comedy aren't that far apart. After all, we didn't arrive on spaceships, and even if we had, we've had plenty of time to acclimate. (For my own part, I don't care for rom-coms. But this isn't because I'm Black it's because I have about half the romantic sense that Dog gave a cabbage, and find the mining of wacky relationships for laughs to be intensely boring.)

Of course, this is just my own theory as to why works by Black filmmakers are met with low expectations within the Hollywood establishment. I wonder what Ms. Holmes has come up with.

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