Jesse Williams: Hollywood fuels racism with stereotypical minority roles
Jesse Williams isn’t just a pretty face known for his long run on Grey’s Anatomy and films like The Butler. He’s a socially conscious actor and an incredibly educated person. He’s not afraid to take a stand against the mainstream, even though his outspokenness must surely cost him roles. Just one example of Jesse’s articulate nature is this critical CNN essay of Django Unchained, which he called a “lazy, oversimplified reduction” of slavery in the United States. Jesse has spoken with many media outlets over the years. He’s motivated to expose double standards and scrutinize media narratives in their portrayal of race.
Jesse gave an impromptu street interview that surfaced on YouTube. He criticizes how stereotypes in Hollywood inform the public and fuel racism. He covers many examples of racism in America, including poverty and crime rates. The full interview is here, but these excerpts focus on the Exodus problem. Jesse’s perspective is that studios block minorities from big budget roles, which forces them into stereotypical roles (such as playing the bad guys in crime dramas). Jesse believes the problem is circular, and Hollywood is a huge part of why racism still exists:
On media stereotypes: “It’s hard to relate to things you can’t relate to. By the way if you don’t live around black folks and you just watch tv, you’re going to be racist. I’d be racist! It’s a mathematical equation. You and the media and a fake a** history system that makes you believe that white people created any of this makes you think that black people ain’t worth a damn. Of course, that’s the way the algorithm works. So you need to put an effort forth. Just like what was happening in the gay rights community. Back when I was a kid, everybody said f*g. Because we didn’t know anybody that was gay and that’s what people said. And you meet some people and you step forward instead of back and you realize ‘Oh, that’s a human being. I’m an a*hole. I shouldn’t be talking like that. That hurts people. And you move forward. Look how quickly the gay rights movement moved forward that also involves white folks and gay people are a part of your family. Black people aren’t necessarily a part of your family, unless they are.”
On causality & the Exodus problem: “It’s like understanding Gun, Germs and Steel, what really emboldens white supremacy to wonder why you’re so dominant. [It’s] a very important text to understand the intersection of coincidence and why we think it’s ok to have a movie like f***ing Exodus where white people look ridiculous dressed like Africans. You look ridiculous because we know it’s make believe. But it’s just a movie, it’s just a movie.’ Nah. It ain’t just a movie. That’s the sh*t that gets Mike Brown killed. All of this stuff is connected.”
Racism in Hollywood: “And that’s what you learn out there in Hollywood playing games. You know how many f***ing jobs I have to turn down and how many people I have to fire because of the racist sh*t I get offered? And I’m as white as you can get being a black person. I have a f***ing struggle. You got to decide whether to wear a du-rag and rob some white person on a tv show or pay your mortgage and raise your family. And that’s no f***ing joke. Those are five of my closest friends who have to decide every three days whether they want to chip away at their own soul and chip away a piece of themselves to dance and shuck and jive for white America. To f***ing rob some white person on tv or play some demonstratively black piece of sh*t in some movie in order to pay their rent. 35-40 year old grown a** men with degrees. It drives people insane to be constantly smushed. And that’s lovely Hollywood, that’s not Ferguson, Missouri.”
Jesse is so well-spoken. Even with all of the f-bombs, he still makes his points known. He’s tired of watching Hollywood push stereotypes, and he knows that some viewers (conscious or not) will sit in their living rooms and judge minorities based upon what they see in movies. Is there a solution? Actors can only starve for so long before they accept stereotypical roles in order to keep working. A huge part of the problem occurs when Ridley Scott and Christian Bale point towards money as the reason behind their casting controversy. Although it is hilarious to see that Exodus won’t come close to recouping its huge budget (and promotional costs).