Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Hey, Let's Have A Real Conversation About "Ethnic"/"Racial" Diversity In Indie Film!

I am sure it will be fun.

This idea came out of a comment that I just left about Mumblecore & "ethnic"/"racial" diversity at Cinephiliac. Here is my comment, and it quotes a comment left at Cinephiliac by David Redmon (David's words are in quotes):

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David,

Re: "Identity politics is a wave born out of and a reaction to the deadening 60s politics in the US."

Maybe.

" It's a strategy used to criticize any aspect of a genre or movement simply by launching a critique of race, able bodied, gender, sexuality, age, eye color, hair style, clothing, etc etc etc."

OK.

"Therefore, I hope critiques against any so called "movement" can be as original as the movement itself."

Hmmm. That's a difficult one to figure out. In the case of M-core, it is not very original, people have been making low budget indie movies about twentysomethings at least since the early 80's or earlier. Jarmusch's Permanent Vacation displays some Mumblecore qualities.

I guess some people wondering why everyone in M-core is a "white" male, in a country & world with major "race" problem issues/apartheid type stuff/caste system/segregation, etc., is not too surprising.

"Identity politics is not original, but that doesn't mean it's unrelated. It's just rehashing old critiques that make me yawn even though they are sometimes justified."

As far as I know people criticizing M-core re: it being all "white" is a new thing, as M-core is a new thing. But I guess yawning about it is probably OK, at least for you, probably/maybe "ethnic"/"racial" diversity in indie film movements is not an issue that really matters to you or at least not an issue that you care about too much. But I am sure people who care about that issue will continue to bring it up.There is, however, among several minority indie filmmakers that I know, the perception that it is easier for "white" male filmmakers to get press for their work. Maybe true, maybe perception, but an awareness of advantage/disadvantage related to skin color/ethnic group ID in the indie film field does exist.

On the bright side, we are talking about no-budget DIY movies. Something pretty much anyone who really wants to do it can do. Maybe the critics are more frustrated with the lack of ethnic diversity in indie film as a whole & M-core is an easy target for venting that frustration. Also, two of the most successful ($s & press & further distro wise) recent low budget indie self-distributed films are Gene Cajayon's The Debut & Greg Pak's Robot Stories. Both by minority filmmakers. Also, Afro-Punk got/keeps getting a nice amount of press for a real indie film.
But I do think, by and large, the US indie film has a soft segregation type thing going on, maybe. Well, difficult to tell, but sometimes it seems that way. Not too many minority & female filmmakers getting a ton of press from indieWIRE, etc. But maybe things are different in various parts of the country, from scene to scene (the indieWIRE scene being just one of many). Jon Moritsugu told me in '05 that he has seen a lot of minority indie filmmakers making work in the West Coast.

Sean B.,
Sounds good re: the gay, black status of people mentioned.

- Sujewa

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And for the full background on this conversation, specifically coming out of questioning the lack of diversity in Mumblecore, we need to check out the discussion in this blog post by Anthony Kaufman.

So, once all that stuff is digested, here are the new questions to think about & discuss:

1 - Is the US indie film scene/industry "ethnically" & gender wise sufficiently diverse at this point?

2 - What exactly is sufficient diversity?

3 - I don't see a lot of minority & also female indie filmmakers getting a lot of press from indie film blogs & websites (besides mine :), & the occasional indieWIRE article) but is that just perception (as in my eyes only picking up certain stuff) or is there actually a huge lack of coverage on good indie films made by non-"white" US male filmmakers & "white" & other female filmmakers?

4 - Are there films as good as or better than Four Eyed Monsters, Mutual Appreciation, Dance Party USA, Quiet City, Cocaine Angel, LOL, Kissing On The Mouth, Hannah Takes The Stairs, Funny Ha Ha, etc. being made & screened & distributed on DVD right now in the US, by minority filmmakers, and not getting as much press as the ones that were mentioned mostly because the films were made by minority directors & feature minority actors in lead roles?

5 - Aside from writing about the films of our friends, do indie film bloggers have a societal obligation (in the interest of creating a more just & fair society) to seek out & write about, and even champion, films by female & minority filmmakers?

6 - What about sexual orientation diversity? How come Todd Verow (a gay DV filmmaker who makes low budget movies) is not getting as much press as the Mumblecore kids? Or is he? - maybe just not at the blogs & websites I visit.

7 - Is the US indie film scene softly racist & sexist? Or, favors "white" males over all others out of habit resulting from segregation, the nation's heritage of "race" relations, etc.?

8 - Do minority actors have a harder time getting lead roles in American indie & real indie films because the press pays a lot of attention to indie films by "white" directors featuring "white" actors? Does that media preference affect how new indie filmmakers cast their films (The thought, re: how "white" & non-"white" my cast should be, certainly did cross my mind when I was casting Date Number One).

9 - Would American indie films make more money if they featured minority actors in lead roles & thus appealed to several segments of the population? Would Mutual Appreciation have made more money at theaters if the lead character was African-American? How about a dark skinned Mexican-American actor?

Interesting & useful things to think about & discuss I think. And all these heavy questions are coming out of people talking about Mumblecore movies; pretty light fare. Very interesting.

OK, start the conversation. Let's see where this goes. Maybe it will take us to a useful place.

Thanks.

- Sujewa

optional:
And to further complicate things:
i use quotes around the words ethnic ("ethnic") & race ("race") & white ("white") because i don't believe that the whole viewpoint that believes in humans belonging to distinct, separate groups marked by skin color & body features, and also point of origin on the planet, is correct or is actually an idea that represents an element of the actual, relevant for human purposes, physical reality of this world (a political & social reality, temporary & made for convenience of the authors/creators of the idea & always changing, but not a physical reality). but, for the purpose of this conversation, full understanding of my view on the existence/lack of existence of "races" is not necessary. many people in the world & the US believe that "race" is a real thing, and that's where we are starting from, for the purpose of this conversation. thanks.

2 comments:

HIT: said...

Interesting subject Sujewa. My thoughts about diversity in a movement like Mumblecore (or any other tight-knit circle of artist)is that it might stilt the authenticity of said group. By that I mean that many artistic, friends, or religious groups often lack the very diversity that corporate America presents (for sales reasons) and when they try to 'push' it into their art, it might feel inauthentic to the filmmakers and viewers alike. Let me be clear: That is not the way it should be or always is. There are very cool, very diverse film collectives around and I think we will start to see more and more in the future.
Presently though, it is often a question of numbers. Hollywood is waking up to this fact and hence more diverse folks in front of and behind the camera. Personally, I think diversity makes for much more interesting fare in art, providing the talent is there of course!

JB

The Sujewa said...

Hey JB,

Interesting thoughts.

Thanks for reading the long post btw, I am about to post a shorter version of it.

Re: "By that I mean that many artistic, friends, or religious groups often lack the very diversity that corporate America presents (for sales reasons)..."

I think the opposite has always been true in America, large entertainment corporations have slowly embraced representing ethnic diversity and are still, at least in film, very careful, from what I hear, about how & when they present minorities in movies. Charles Burnett has an interesting essay in the current edition on FLM magazine (Landmark Theater's mag) about the lack of opportunities for Af-AM actors in Hollywood (high profile of a handful of actors aside).

But, Hollywood is a totally different game than indie film, or real indie film at least. With Mumblecore, my question is not so much about "is it cool for people to make films with no minority actors?", but rather, Mumblecore real indie filmmakers - who are, for the most part, "white" males, are getting a lot of press in the indie film scene/press, & their films feature an almost entirely "white" cast, and the quality of their films range from interesting to very good, so, I am wondering, does the fact the Mumblecore is mostly "white" make it easier for them to get press in the indie film scene, a scene/industry - (including most of the film festival programmers?) that is also, as far as I can tell, mostly "white" & male? Alternatively, is the indie film press ignoring, accidentally to some degree, other talented indie/real indie filmmakers who are either female or minority, and who make movies featuring minority actors in the lead roles?

Re: my own movie Date Number One ( a film featuring minority actors in lead roles), and one directed by a minority filmmaker, myself, I feel that the indie film press - at least the blog world, has responded pretty well, as far as coverage wise, so far. So DNO & I are not a part of the above questions.

-Sujewa

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