White Privilege in Movies

Samson Syharath, Walter Petryk, Nate Ayers and James Dixon in STARS IN HIS EYES – a film about racism in the gay community.

Some of the white power holders in the film and media industry are facing a reckoning because of how homogeneous their staff and casts and stories have been in the past. The recognized evil of white privilege is perpetuated by greed.

Concurrently the difference between a movie theater movie and an internet movie has vanished. The theater closures are shifting viewing habits to home theaters only, film festivals are online, and the American media industry is undergoing a huge cultural shift this year.

Speaking as a white male I don’t feel white privilege sufficiently describes this culture. In America privilege refers to getting something by doing something – your driver’s license is a privilege because you passed the test, watching TV after doing your homework is a privilege.

What I have is white advantage. Opportunities arise for me simply because I belong to the race of the power holders. I didn’t have to do anything to pass the NY police without being harassed while they stopped and frisked the man walking next to me. That is advantage.

It’s even more complex than that. Plenty of studies show that taller people get promotions and pay raises more frequently than shorter people. Men are paid more than women. Even white skinned blonde hair blue-eyeds get better jobs than white skinned brown hair brown-eyeds.

As an actor – in my case – I got opportunities beginning as a teenager because I looked like someone the national advertising agencies wanted to represent their chicken nuggets and hot dogs and insurance and cleaning products. I had an advantage over other teenagers because I fit ‘the advertising agency look.’

It’s not just being white – it’s much more delineated because our culture thinks some people are more attractive than other people. But what we think is attractive today in America hasn’t historically been true thru all the ages or cultures. In the 1900s portly men were admired more than skinny men and round women were the early pin-up girls before being replaced by today’s coat hanger models.

What causes these shifts and trends? Money. What the consumer buys.

I hear filmmakers demand a place at the table from established power holders and are disillusioned when they find they are merely utilized as tokens. Why does that happen? Because the power holders still believe the consumers/the audience only want what the power holders have traditionally delivered.

How do filmmakers really make a change? Cultivate your audience. Don’t start hammering away at the top expecting actual change – that’s wishful thinking. Instead change what the audience wants and what the audience buys.

The power holders are strictly looking at business. They will do whatever will make them the most money. You want the power holders to include you or to give you opportunities? Cultivate your audience – prove your audience wants to hear what you have to say.

The media industry is driven by the dollar. It is not artistic. It is not creative. It is not moral or ethical or answering a higher calling of intellectual purpose. It only cares about the money.

And yes the business is exclusive because the business is focused on what it thinks makes the most money. If the majority of American consumers spoke Portuguese, all the Hollywood films would be made in Portuguese. China is a huge market for American films and the Hollywood films  you are currently watching were written to conform to Chinese values so the power holders can make more money.

You may look at me – an older white man of advantage – and think that I’m mansplaining or patronizing or have no idea what you’re experiencing. But like you, I make movies that Hollywood doesn’t think they can sell. I make movies about gay men that not a single gay film festival wants to program because my characters don’t fit the programmers’ limited view of what they think sells movie tickets. Hollywood producers aren’t interested in hiring me because they believe advertisers won’t support the stories I tell because they think the audience won’t watch. I have to cultivate my audience to make money.

If you want your voice heard, rally your audience to support you in making your movies. Now that the barriers to reaching your audience are crashing, this is your opportunity. You don’t even have to get your movie on Netflix or Amazon or any of the other gatekeepers to reach a huge audience.

You change culture with movies. Start by gathering audience support for the movies you plan to make. In time Hollywood will come along and start making similar movies to yours because they’ll see you are making the money they want. And by that time if you want a seat at the table you won’t be there as a token.

I can’t give you a seat at the table. I can assist you in figuring out how to make your movies. I mentor filmmakers living all over the globe, speaking dozens of languages. I set aside time every week for mentoring when I’m not shooting a feature film.

Tweet me @paulbrightfilms to set up a chat.

I want to see your story in a movie.

Happy filmmaking!