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Sunday, August 26, 2007

America's minority population at over 100 million, yet the grass roots film movement Mumblecore do not seem to have any dark skinned friends

According to this San Francisco Chronicle article about 1 in 3 people in the US are non-"white". Mumblecore filmmakers or as the IFC Center calls them - Generation DIY, have been identified as a grass roots movement in the indie film press & also in the mainstream press. So, I would think that it is reasonable to expect a movement that comes from "the people" to have some key players who are not "white". Yet, pretty much (if I recall correctly) all the Mumblecore movies I 've seen so far (Kissing On The Mouth, LOL, Funny Ha Ha, Mutual Appreciation, The Puffy Chair, Dance Party, USA, Hannah Takes the Stairs) have featured an all-"white" cast and all the celebrated Mumblecore directors who are on their way to Hollywood & indiewood fame & wealth are all-"white". Mumblecore may have aesthetic/film technique differences from mainstream American film & television, but, when it comes to not collaborating with minority talent, Mumblecore is like 1950's Hollywood or mainstream television from that era.

An otherwise very cool indie film theater programmer asked me recently not to complain about Mumblecore being an all-"white" thing. Looks like I am not going to be able to do that.

Also, a very widely read film journalist who blogs for indieWIRE told me a while back that American indie film has always been a "white" thing. Not really ("Race Films" of the 1930's on, Cassavette's Shadows, Spike Lee, Jarmusch's Mystery Train & Night On Earth & Dead Man & Ghost Dog, Ang Lee & Mira Nair & Wayne Wang's careers). So how come the indie film media does not seem to be at all concerned about the hottest new thing in our world -Mumblecore - being an all-"white" thing?

So is Mumblecore independent film by & for "white"people only? Or for people who do not have any non-"white" friends or acquaintances or business partners? Maybe it is, at least up to now. At least that seems to be the message in the casting decisions made in the films.

In the grand scheme of things it does not matter, since Hollywood is embracing diversity. And Aaron Katz said that he is writing a script that takes place in the 70's & has an African-American lead character. So maybe Mumblecore directors too will eventually reflect the massive diversity in the country that they live & work in. And of course there is a ton of minority indie filmmakers working now & also up and coming; so, now that I am scaling back my posts re: Mumblecore films & filmmakers (this piece is more of a social analysis type piece, these kinds of things I'll still write as necessary), I'll write more about those diverse films & filmmakers here.

For the moment it is however sad that a lot of the media are hyping a grass-roots filmmaking group that does not seem to have any significant non-"white"members; in a country with a huge number (100 million is I believe greater than the total population of France) of non-"white" citizens & residents.

I believe there exists a huge "digital video divide" in the current American indie film scene/industry; from press/publicity on to distribution and all the way down to production. I think this will be changing real fast, like by next year or so, let's hope, 'cause I like to cling to my old perception & belief that the type of films I like above all else/the otherwise cool community that makes those films - American indie films/real indie films - are at least as progressive as Hollywood (indie film should be far more progressive, but I'll settle for at-least-as for now) when it comes to reflecting the ethnic diversity in America.

Finally, a key point that should not be overlooked is that THE INDIE FILM MEDIA & INDIE FILM FESTIVALS & INDIE THEATER PROGRAMMERS are the ones who have made Mumblecore as big a success as it is now. So, any blame for the near 100% "white"ness of the "movement" should be evenly spread among those entities also, not just the filmmakers who have very limited resources and are at the mercy/support of/are dependent on the people I mentioned above for building their careers.

- Sujewa

19 comments:

Ray Privett said...

Hi Sujewa.

I didn't ask you "not to complain about Mumblecore being an all-'white' thing." I suggested you might want to be more subtle in that criticism.

Here are a few comments on what you've said here.

Someone very close to Swanberg's productions, who also often appears in work he directs, is not "white."

At least one person regularly implicated in this group is Jewish. The writer Walter Mosley once said something like this - and this is not a direct quote, just a loose memory - "My mother was Jewish, which some people think is white." I have met many Jewish people who share such ambivalence, uncertain whether they qualify as "white."

But, to get to your point about this being mostly a white "movement." You're assuming that they're purposefully not collaborating with minorities, specifically because they don't want to collaborate with minorities (as opposed to them making decisions based on who is around them, and the non-racial virtues of those people).

That's a pretty big assumption, and I doubt you have any evidence to support it in this case.

Race - and class - are certainly relevant backgrounds for discussing any American film movement (particularly in how any movement is marketed). Hell, they're pretty important backgrounds for anything that goes on in this country.

But, at least to me, that importance doesn't justify half-thought-through broadsides.

Ray Privett

Ray Pride said...

Check into Hannah Takes The Stairs producer Anish Savjani... he also produced (perhaps financed) Swanberg's next.

The Sujewa said...

Hey Ray Pride,

Thanks for commenting. Yes, I know about Anish. I am referring to people who are in the movies - the actors. Yes, as Ray Privett notes in his comment above if we dig into the ethnic background of some of the Mumblecore people who appear in the movies there probably is some non-"white" elements there - but I am talking about the so far visually/seemingly/all-"white" looking (for the most part, the DJ in Mutual App looked Asian) stars/actors in the celebrated M-core movies.

- Sujewa

The Sujewa said...

Hey Ray Privett,

Nice to hear from you.

Re: "But, to get to your point about this being mostly a white "movement." You're assuming that they're purposefully not collaborating with minorities, specifically because they don't want to collaborate with minorities (as opposed to them making decisions based on who is around them, and the non-racial virtues of those people).

That's a pretty big assumption, and I doubt you have any evidence to support it in this case."

As you probably know, issues of race/ethnicity/representation is both an obvious thing and at the same time a subtle/hard to pin point thing at the same time sometimes. In this post I was referring to what the actors in Mumblecore movies look like. For the most part, it seems like an all-"white" cast in pretty much all of the movies.

And, I guess I should add THE INDIE FILM AUDIENCE to the list of groups that may bear some responsibility for the lack of minority visibility in indie film.
Maybe more people go see movies with "white" actors than non-"white" actors, who knows. Thus, film festival programmers & indie film theater programmers & the indie film press maybe inclined to push/celebrate an all-"white" indie film movement/group because they know that it will be an easier sell.

But, Mumblecore is a small thing in the big picture. I am happy with the amount of opportunity that minority filmmakers have at this point to make movies. Publicity & distribution is another matter - an area that needs work. Also, as I mentioned in an earlier post, M-core techniques (collaboration, group identity as a selling point to media, etc.) can be used by minority filmmakers to get press, screenings, articles, etc.

- Sujewa

Jason Sheinkopf said...

Hey Sujewa,

Just wanted to let you know that my friend Nitin's movie just premiered in Arlington. It's called "Prayer Life" and it has a multi-ethnic cast. You can see a trailer at http://www.prayerlifemovie.com.

Anonymous said...

The problem with mumble movies isn't lack of color, it's lack of plot. When nothing happens for two hours straight, I could be watching aliens from another planet and still not be interested.

Mike Sarti

aaron said...

good post, sujewa. i've read your blog a few times, but have never commented till now. it's nice to know i'm not the only one who views this "mumblecore" business w/ a keenly skeptical eye. i posted a long, pissy rant at the spout blog here: http://blog.spout.com/2007/08/17/the-media-diet-andrew-grant-and-aaron-hillis-benten-films/#comment-559
you may or may not agree w/ my approach: i'm decidedly much more hostile than you are. it just bothers me that any questioning of this whole movement is met w/ swift and harsh retaliation, as if we're not allowed not to approach this critically. also, it bothered me that you didn't make this personal at all, yet "burritoboy" had to resort to calling you names (and nobody called him on it).

anyway, like i said, you're obviously free to disagree w/ my tactic and distance yourself from my comment, i just thought i'd give you a head's up and let you know that you're not the only one who isn't buying this "mumblecore" thing hook, line, and sinker.

The Sujewa said...

Hey Jason,

Yeah, I heard about Nitin's movie. I think I saw somewhere that it was a religious movie, not something that I am usually into - but, will look into it. Thanks for the comment.

- Sujewa

The Sujewa said...

Hey Mike,

Check out Puffy Chair, it's got what I think you might agree is something like a traditional plot; or, at least, there is a lot of stuff happening during a road trip in that flick.

Yeah, for the other M-core flicks, not much happens in a traditional story/plot kinda way. Which, in some movies, is not a problem for me; as in the case of early Jarmusch movies.

- Sujewa

The Sujewa said...

Hey Aaron,

Thanks for commenting. Will check out your post/comment at Spout.

- Sujewa

M. Lieberman said...

Sujewa,

This was a much needed post, even if the reactions were not as desirable as could be. Yes, mumblecore is mostly white, straight, and middle class. Kids with parents to bail them out at any moment, yes.

However I think the very nature of mumblecore is very very white. From what I've seen, the films typically exist within white American dilemmas, i.e. what do I do when I graduate school, but in the meantime can I have two grand dad?

Sujewa, you should make films in any which way you please. As a dark-skinned American, your views count as much as anyone else's, so hone in on those things that differentiate you. This post was obviously a reaction against something that left you embittered, so tap into it and make a $500 film. Go for it.

Anyway, I think this is the first critical mumblecore post I've read anywhere online, which is telling. Keep at it.

- ML

The Sujewa said...

Hi ML,

Thanks for checking out the post & commenting. Many of the M-core movies could have had minority actors; the lifestyles shown in them are also ones which millions of minority kids participate in.
I've already made a $10K feature (Date Number One; http://www.wilddiner.com/), will be making more.

- Sujewa

Anonymous said...

1) Neither did Seinfeld (except the Johnny Cochran parody guy). I guess that's why Michael Richards is who he is today.

2) At the end of the day, the m'core movement is a press creation. It is utterly irrelevant, as made clear by the mediocre-at-best performance at the ONE screen it managed to occupy this weekend.

Anonymous said...

hi sujewa -
y'know, I've thought about that issue in my own work ever since Spike Lee started talking about it in the 80's.
I think a big part of the problem is that film is still very expensive, so people tend to rely on friends to populate films that deal with things they know well -- things familiar to them in their culture. So the white kids who have enough cash and wherewithall to make a film will often cast white people for the parts they write. It's easier. Funny Ha Ha comes from a rich Harvard background white guy who cast his filmmaker friends.
I think the best way to get more variety of faces is to get a better variety of filmmakers, not necessarily in casting.
keep up the good work
Erik

Cherie said...

Hello Sujewa.

I agree with what you said about the lack of racial diversity in the mumblecore movement.

You should check out Medicine for Melancholy.

It is an ultra-low budget independent feature about to go into production, which has a very mumblecore-esque style but features two African American young people in the lead roles.

-cherie

Short End said...

Cherie beat me to the punch on this one. I was just about to mention M4M, but I particulary wanted to leave you the promotional poster:

http://www.strikeanywherefilms.com/images/demogrfx_small.jpg

These statistics frighten me. I gather they will you too.

The Sujewa said...

Hey Short End,

I do not know of this emotion "fear" that you speak of, but I will check out the link.

Thanks for commenting.

- Sujewa

M. Lieberman said...

In my prior comment, I specified that "of the films I've seen", a white, middle class nature was a common. I did not mean to be so general, as I noticed my comment was. So, without further adieu, I'd like to retract my "very very white" comment, because upon further inspection of what this "movement" actually incapsulates, there are diverse members of all colors, orientations, and genders. And even if they didn't, this was by no means a way of dismissing work at all.

- ML

The Sujewa said...

M. Liberman,

Re: "because upon further inspection of what this "movement" actually incapsulates, there are diverse members of all colors, orientations, and genders."

I don't see it. Majority of the directors are "white" males. Almost no minority actors (i am mainly talking about the Generation DIY series of Mumblecore movies playing @ IFC Center right now). As far as sexual orientation goes, seems pretty straight.

- Sujewa

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