Friday, December 31, 2010

Day 32 - Racism in Julie & Julia (pt. 2)

Day 32.

Yesterday, I talked about "blackground actors," a phenomenon where the creators of a movie deliberately shoehorn black and non-white people into the background of unimportant scenes just for the sake of having diversity. Let me just say that I have no problem with non-white actors. I do, however, have a problem with racial tokenism--Nora Ephron, I'm looking at you.

I kept my eyes out for such instances during today's viewing and found a few within the first half hour.

Maybe I'm completely off-base here, as this is supposed to be New York and there are definitely non-white people in New York, but for some reason, it just seems forced to me. It almost seems as if there's some kind of unspoken racial quota to meet and using non-white background actors is Julie & Julia's way of meeting it.

Which leads me to think, aside from actually crafting a fully-developed, strong non-white character, is there any way to amend this kind of thing? I mean, you can't just say "Hey, get rid of these black people in the background." But isn't it just as wrong to say "Hey, let's get more black people in the background?" Troublesome stuff. Does Julie & Julia actually hate black people or is this just a byproduct of Hollywood system? Are the pressures of being politically correct inadvertently making all movies of today racist? Is there anything lazier than using vague rhetorical questions to illustrate a point?

I don't know the answers to those questions. But I do know that Julie & Julia is fucking racist. And on that note, Happy New Year's Eve, everyone!


Julie & Julia
Quote of the Day: "But that will give me something to do in Oslo."


  1. "Does Julie & Julia actually hate black people or is this just a byproduct of Hollywood system?"

    I feel it's the latter and I'll tell you why: many screenwriters who are white actively choose to write and make stories about white people. That's how it's always been, and since Hollywood is more conservative than it is reputed to be, it doesn't feel the need to change that. Which is terribly unfortunate. But to me it sounds more ignorant than racist, and although they often overlap, there is a difference.

    I will say that as a white writer, I feel more comfortable writing about white characters. But maybe that's a wimpy, tired excuse that I should stop using. And Hollywood should stop using it, too.

  2. or could it be connected to the fact that all the major characters in the movie are based on real life people who all happen to be white.
    This doesn't excuse the "blackground" actors but it does explain the lack of any major characters of colour.

  3. Perhaps they could go with the random sampling approach of scientific research and accept their choices without complaint. It's better than stratified random sampling (lining up all whites, blacks then randomly choosing three from each)...

    now that I think about it...they probably just go by acting ability...

  4. is the above reader, Mari, suggesting that white people have better acting ability? well, if so, that's just super racist.

  5. I don't see how the film is "fucking racist" for employing people of color in background roles or for portraying the ethnicity of the main characters as they were in real life. But there's also no reason that a director could not change the ethnicity of any of the characters, for example, make Julie's husband Indonesian-American, or make her boss black. However, even that could still be called tokenism and quota-ism, which brings us to the question of what exactly is the opposite of "fucking racism"? I always felt that a film that went to great lengths to use women and people of color in places of leadership was the fictional, intellectual sci-fi film CONTACT by Carl Sagan. The lead character, a scientific researcher, is a woman. Her primary co-workers is blind. The head of the White House team is a black woman. The guy with his finger on the button of the space launch project is a black man. The bad guy is an ultra-white blonde Evangelical preacher. Is this more what you had in mind?

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