Did you think I was oblivious? When I toured the fancy talent agencies? Meeting the managers in their art filled, airy offices on the west side? Shaking hands with eager entertainment lawyers. Do you think I didn’t notice the teamsters and the grips and the sales agents… the casting directors, the art directors and the camera department… do you think I ever said out loud… why are none of you black? Why are so few of you latino or asian?
When I arrived in Hollywood, at the talent agencies, they introduced me to gay agents… because I’m gay. They thought I might feel more comfortable. They talked gay with me. They told me about their husbands, they hoped I might party with them in Palm Spings. What do they do with their black clients? All those white agents perfecting their patois, their chicken and waffles… their white shame… their apology.
On their own… feeling safe, they tell you what they really think. On the golf course, in the AA meeting. Listening to the talent agency owner whilst he disparages woman (‘nobody wants a woman director’) and people of color (‘they just don’t have our work ethic’). At the white AA meeting we attended in The Palisades I watch in awe as the sober, white entertainment lawyers… hoping to do business with the fat, short, racist… laugh in agreement. It doesn’t go unnoticed that most of the powerful white men I meet pandering to low grade racism… are Jewish.
I was told by one mega producer who famously makes very, very white super hero films that he wished every muslim would either convert or die… and when I wrote to him the following day explaining members of my family were muslim he replied it wasn’t his problem I was related to ‘rag heads’.
I was called a rag head and sand nigger by a well known gay white writer when we fought about money.
The white, gay caterer told me last week he didn’t employ black people. “It makes my clients uncomfortable.” He smiles, he hopes his winning smile will somehow deflect my critical glare. He hopes, because he has come out as a racist, I might extend some sort of sympathy, some understanding. When he came out as gay… he was a hero. Would his honesty about race garner the same result?
Sales agents told me, when casting my film Dorian Gray, “Don’t even think about a black lead, we won’t be able to sell to the Middle East.” They were unembarrassed by their racism, actively excluding black people from lead roles, from leading, from leading a better life.
I asked talent agents to suggest people of color to play Dorian Gray. They couldn’t.
Charlotte Rampling and Michael Caine are not the problem. The teamsters and the agency boss are the problem. Of course Charlotte and Michael see black faces on set, in the make up trailer and at Craft Services.
They say the Oscars don’t matter. Of course they fucking matter. White people with an Oscar nomination can expect a wage increase of a gazillion %. Awards are factored into contracts, an award contractually guarantees the writer/director/lead cast more money. That’s how contracts are structured.
Pretend, as Robert Redford did yesterday, it was the work rather than the award that mattered… betraying his disingenuousness. His elitism. If awards don’t matter… get rid of the Sundance awards.
White men (gay and straight) keep women and people of color away from the big money, excluded from the validation, the opportunity, from the prizes.
Prizes that suddenly don’t matter to Robert Redford… because it’s not about the glory, it’s about the work.
Tina Gharavi is an Iranian Film Director. Her statement on Facebook today should bring tears to your eyes.
I am constantly told, oh it doesn’t matter, doesn’t exist, it’s not worth getting upset over…. or that it will change with time, that it’s all in my head… or make a film that they cannot ignore… or if you were any good, it will happen anyway…. At the end of the day, my whole career has been needing to prove myself twice more over than those on my left and right and it is exhausting. More than just the work itself, it’s the fact that people deny the prejudice even exists. When I first met my partner, he was skeptical that there were systems at play that did not give me the same chances as other filmmakers. After 5 years of watching, he has seen the many times that opportunities were given to others less qualified… of the invitations that never arrive… Now he is more livid than me…. He sees the fact that the panels will invite the white male director (except when it is a panel where they need to discuss diversity or need a female to turn up). Truth is many black filmmakers watch their white peers rise up with projects which are less interesting and challenging… well, one can imagine the effect that has on the soul. Films are a commercial as well as an artistic expression. I have said this before, sometimes I wish I had never left painting. You can paint without much money but filmmaking… that means a lot of people have to have incredible belief and support for your vision. Most of the time, however, it is a failure of imagination… and that is were we are all poorer. We need to confront this and Charlotte would do better than making choices and decisions based on her own experiences. I don’t know many black or ethnic filmmakers who would agree with her. I challenge her to work on my next film, not as an actress but as an Exec and watch exactly how many opportunities I am given which impoverish my fellow white filmmakers. I call her out… if she wants to really see what the truth of it is. If she was following my story so far she wouldn’t have said what she did. I don’t want a leg up just because there aren’t enough black filmmakers…. I want an equal opportunity because I have important stories to tell.