Award season has arrived.
We are tasked to consider the most pressing moral issues according to the Screen Actors Guild, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Hollywood Foreign Press, the Directors Guild of America and other such organizations that keep America right and just.
It is during these days that the most successful among these affiliates demand the all-powerful “us” to diversify the movies and television.
“If we are committed to inclusion, then that same role that you’re thinking for Sandra Bullock, or for Nicole Kidman … can be thought of … for myself, or for Taraji P. Henson, or for Catalina Sandino Moreno,” claims Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis to Entertainment Tonight.
“I don’t always have to make a statement,” she continues, “Sometimes I just want to be a woman in a story.”
First things first: Viola’s perspective is way off the mark. She must realize that African-Americans should not, and cannot call themselves minorities in American entertainment. For a few years now, they have been nothing less than the colored majority. They’ve earned it and should embrace it.
Regarding the supposed lack of diversity among the true minorities in Lala Land, Ms. Davis almost makes it sound like a real problem exists. Yet across the golden and silver screens, YouTube, and the major content channels, characters and stories of every color and ethnicity abound. Have you ever poked around the settings on Netflix to take a look at the subtitles options? Surprising isn’t it? Try though we might, we simply cannot ignore the thousands more foreign language options that can be experienced on demand from practically anywhere.
Ms. Davis’ claim is, quite frankly, absurd. Surely, there are more stirring ways to enhance her status than repeating this shrill irrelevance. We might respect her more if she came right out with, “I want Angelina Jolie’s roles from now on.” Instead, she blunders to even faintly suggest the rampant replacement of traditionally white archetypes by minority actors.
The dizzy housewife is no longer the progeny of Lucille Ball; she is the Indian-American actress Sarayu Rao in NBC’s “I Feel Bad.” To boot, her television parents, the ironic in-laws that not so long ago were typified by the likes of Ray Romano’s scripted folks, speak with the undeniable, syllabically syncopated sing-song.
The modern American woman-with-trust-issues, and the annoying Minnie Mouse voice? She’s not the Jewish writer on “Sex and the City” anymore. She’s Mindy Kaling on “The Mindy Project.” Truthfully, I didn’t set out to specifically point out Indian-Americans, but while I’m at it, how about Padma Lakshmi on “Top Chef,” and Priyanka Chopra on “Quantico.” Consider Aziz Ansari of the comedic realm or — more to the point of inclusion — #MeToo infamy.
Asian-American actors have been smart to stand clear of the whining and for good reason: They don’t need to. Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Southeast Asian talents populate film, television and music. Although with Pacific Islanders, not so much. However, The Rock and Jason Momoa are household American brands, and in New Zealand and Australia, Polynesians, Melanesians, and Indigenous Australians are a mainstay of film and television. Even correct portrayals of Indigenous Americans are readily found. Can there be more?
Perhaps. The truth is that some minorities don’t make their stories available for public consumption. There is no shortage.
When Viola Davis says that sometimes she just wants to play “a woman,” its cinematic translation is “the un-remarkable” female. In fact, minority actors play many of today’s specifically unappealing characters. One might say that the Hollywood arts have dulled our exotic edge.
In truth, there are no real-life Chinese immigrants as fragile as the family portrayed in “Fresh off the Boat.” No such Asian male as naïve and impressionable as Louis Huang exists in the restaurant business, let alone one who might successfully immigrate to the United States and compete in the hospitality industry. It actually takes a profound measure of moxie to get to and thrive in Chinatown.
No, Viola, the non-majorities of color see exactly where we are in the land of make-believe. At the moment, we are unremarkably just about everywhere.