John Singleton has penned a provocative op-ed for the Hollywood Reporter on white directors making Black films. Citing The Help and 42 as recent examples, the outspoken filmmaker points out the “latent racism” in Hollywood, where Black films are made by entirely white creative teams with little to no input from filmmakers of color.
“Even when there are Black directors or writers involved, some of the films made today seem like they’re sifted of soul,” he writes. “It’s as if the studios are saying, ‘We want it Black, just not that Black.'”
Singleton points out the upcoming biopic of James Brown as a particularly troubling example of the white-washing of Black films. “It gives one pause that someone is making a movie about the icon who laid down the foundation of funk, hip hop and Black economic self-reliance with no African-American involvement behind the scenes,” he says.
Despite his harsh words for the Hollywood establishment, Singleton does allow that several white filmmakers have hit the mark when it comes to Black subjects. “There are several white filmmakers who have told Black stories and gotten it right,” he concedes, citing The Hurricane director Norman Jewison and Ray helmer Taylor Hackford as two examples.
More importantly, however, Singleton claims that despite the lack of diversity in Hollywood, 2013 has turned out to be a “banner year” for Black filmmakers. “Nearly a dozen Black movies will be released before [the year] is over,” he points out. “And with awards season just around the corner, three indie flicks are right in the mix: Ryan Coogler’s remarkable and unquestionably authentic debut, Fruitvale Station; my friend Lee Daniels’ The Butler, which has drawn a diverse crowd and topped the box office three weeks in a row; and the film everyone is waiting for, Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave.”
In conclusion, the Boyz N the Hood director sheds light on why Black films strike a universal chord. “What Hollywood execs need to realize is that Black-themed stories appeal to the mainstream because they are uniquely American. Our story reminds audiences of struggles and triumphs, dreams and aspirations we all share.”