The White American Male Lens and You
(Or, “How To Stop Watching the Same Old Stories.”)
by Nia Malika Dixon
The dearth of content in film and television, reflective of a narrative more like mine, is ridiculous especially since Muslims and Black people, (and even Muslim Black People!) have been contributing members to American culture for hundreds of years. Being Muslim, and being Black, and being a woman, I am a unicorn in “Hollywood.” I have stories to tell, and millions of people who want to see the kinds of stories I tell. Yet, the loudest narratives have always been told through the White, American, Male lens.
What’s that you say? There are opportunities for everyone? Especially with the advent of new technology making it easier to create content? Sure the ease by which television and film can be created has increased exponentially, but since the beginning of Hollywood, diverse opportunities are truly limited. Opportunities come from money, and the bulk of the money (and the power of influence) in mainstream media remains White, American, and Male. The response to creators of diverse content has always been, “Yeah, that’s great. We want you to be able to tell your stories. Just not on our dime, nor in our faces.” Along with that, mainstream media systems perpetuate the stereotypes and myths that benefit their business: “People won’t want to see a show full of (insert diversity label here) people, it’s not really global.” (The irony of that one!) Or, “It’s a niche market, people in general won’t relate.” All this, despite the success of many television shows with diverse casting in worldwide syndication, (The Cosby Show, The Wire, Luther1, etc.) and globally distributed films (The Pursuit of Happyness, Slumdog Millionaire, Fast Five2, etc.) to garner a huge fan base, and rich box office profits across the globe.
The answer is to rally our resources to fund the projects for production and distribution, that are being dismissed as not being relevant or relatable to the general population, and let the general population decide what they think is relevant and relatable. I’ve had meetings with executives who love the stories I pitched, but then turned around and passed because “there is just not a market for that.” (Maybe if the lead was white, and male?) True Detective is great, but how much more interesting would it be if one of the leads was a Black man? Or an Asian woman? The truth is there is a large, underserved population of viewers that is hungry for the kinds of diverse stories that seem to always get passed.
They don’t have to get passed. We, as the underserved audience, have large numbers. So, a small financial contribution from one individual in Ohio may not seem like it can do much. But, when it is added to the hundreds of thousands of other small contributions from all over the world, it can green light a television show that people love to watch. (And, that also happens to explode stereotypes!) The wealthy people in our communities, who want to see those stories get made, need to be willing to change the status quo instead of accepting it. There is a fear of the risk of losing a seat at the “White, American, Male” table, but that table is shrinking.
Many people dislike Tyler Perry and his franchise of stories (that perpetuate stereotypes,) but he has proven that there is an audience for new stories starring people of color. His phenomenal rise to financial success proves that. If these audiences are so starved for stories that Tyler Perry is adequate, just imagine if there were more variety in the shows and films from which to choose. Instead, maybe they would choose that character-driven, crime drama or that comedy-western, both starring people of color. We have to take back the power and control over our own narratives, and fund the projects that will raise our own voices. So that our stories can be seen and heard just as loudly as others, and in the mainstream view, let the audience decide.
1. Luther stars Black actor, Idris Elba as the title character Detective John Luther. It first premiered in Australia on ABC1 on 15 October 2010 and in the United States on BBC America two days later. It was also broadcast in Germany (Series 1: September/October 2011; Series 2: March 2012) where it was dubbed and cut, in France on Canal+ and in Poland on Ale Kino+ channel. The second series debuted in the United States on BBC America on 29 September 2011 and Australia on ABC1 on 24 February 2012. The third series ran in the United States on BBC America on four consecutive nights beginning 3 September 2013. The first series was broadcast in Turkey starting January 2012. It was also broadcast as part of a marathon on 14 July 2012 on the BET network in the US and officially began airing on its sister channel Centric on 16 July 2012. The South Korean cable channel Channel N also aired the series.
In Denmark “Luther” has been aired during 2013 at DR’s channel DR2. The Finnish YLE TV2 also aired it in its entirety during 2013. In January 2014 all three series were also broadcast by the Dutch KRO.
The first two dubbed series were broadcast on STV 1 channel in Slovakia (September – October 2013).
The first series of the show premiered in Greece on OTE Cinema 1 HD on 11 March 2014. The series is available on Netflix (English and Dutch). (Wikipedia.org)
2. Fast Five stars an ethnically diverse cast headlining, including four African-American men. Worldwide, it is the seventy-first highest-grossing film, the seventh highest-grossing 2011 film, the second highest-grossing film in the Fast & Furious series (behind Fast Six), and the fifth highest-grossing Universal film. It achieved a worldwide opening weekend of $109.6 million. The film reached a peak of number 55 on the list of all-time highest-grossing films worldwide in October 2011. (Wikipedia.org)