Types of Roles Black Actors Never Get

I saw Boyhood this past weekend and loved it. I loved it for the same reason I loved The Tree of Life: it was a meditation on all the moments that, in sum, make up a life, and it presented the most mundane situations with a simplicity, tenderness, and unaffectedness that rendered them poetic. There were hardships—parental alcoholism, divorce, uprooting and moving to an unfamiliar new town—but nothing like the struggles we’ve come to expect of movies that feature black characters.

The Help. Fruitvale Station. 12 Years a Slave. All important movies, for sure, but what if black characters were afforded opportunities to self-realize and experience “normal” challenges in ways that are mostly reserved for whites in films? What would that look like? And how odd would it sound to audiences so used to seeing white people in these roles?

Boyhood. A young black male, Otis Kennedy, suffers through the pain of his parents’ divorce. Visiting his father often enough to learn the ins and outs of camping trips and bowling alleys, he continues his self-discovery through manhood and into college, where he experiences an enlightened drug trip while hiking in Big Bend State Park, Texas.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Alvin Rogers is bent on escaping the memory of Loretta Smith, his ex-girlfriend. He enlists the services of Lacuna, Inc., who promise to erase all recollections of his painful relationship. When he decides he no longer wants to go through with it, he must race against science and memory fragments to reconnect with Loretta, his true love.

Her. In 2025, Devon Williams, an introvert whose job is to write personal letters for those incapable of expressing deep emotion, purchases “Clarice”, an artificially intelligent girlfriend. Eventually learning that her love interests include 641 other people, Devon goes to his roof to watch the sunrise with his good friend, Eileen.

Angel Heart. Mark Brown, a private investigator, is hired by enigma¬†Louis Cyphre to track down a singer, Johnny Favorite. Mark’s travels take him to the clinic where Johnny was last seen, Johnny’s former lover, and Johnny’s former musician friend, Toots Sweet. What Mark finds out about Johnny, and himself, causes a revelation of identity and terror.

High Fidelity. Ronnie Washington, who owns a record store, recounts various breakups, attempting to find out what went wrong with each one. His fun-loving, oddball co-workers, Andre Youngblood and Ronald Jackson, spout obscure music trivia as Ronnie tries to win back an ex, Ruby.

Winter’s Bone. Seventeen-year-old Rhianna Davis is the head of her family, who live in the rural Ozarks. To protect them, she embarks on a mission to find her father, who put the house up for collateral to pay his bail and has gone missing. Knowing he’s involved with the local crystal meth scene, she questions shady characters, only to find herself in dangerous situations with no answers. Not believing her father’s been killed, she continues her perilous search until she finds out the truth.

Perhaps Winter’s Bone, with its underprivileged characters, absent father, and drug motif, is the closest this brief list comes to what black actors are usually offered in the way of mainstream roles. In the year 2014, there has to be more. Think of our most beloved characters from cinema. Can you imagine if Willy Wonka had been black? How about a black Tyler Durden, or Jack Sparrow, or Jessica Rabbit?

Where all the fun, non-stereotypical characters at?

 

9 Iconic Movies with Stellar Portrayals of Women

Most of us are familiar with The Bechdel Test. To qualify as female-friendly, a movie must meet three requirements:

  1. It has to have at least two women in it,
  2. who talk to each other,
  3. about something besides a man.

Isn’t there more? Let’s face it—women, if movies indicate correctly, are really only good for two things: birthing babies and pleasuring males. And everything related to these things. Sex. Prostitution. Stripping. Staying home with babies. Agonizing over babies.

Did we mention sex?

Here’s a new test: is the movie about sex or motherhood? Luckily, we have many, many great examples in the modern film canon!

Yes, many male filmmakers hit the nail on the head with their vaginally focused characterizations of female characters. Here are 9 great examples. And, just for fun, let’s point out what these characters’ male counterparts get to do.

  1. Blue Velvet. When she’s not waiting to get her kidnapped son back, Dorothy Vallens loves to get hit by Jeffrey Beaumont. Meanwhile, Jeffrey’s off doing things like solving mysteries and getting rid of the bad guy.
  2. Breaking the Waves. Okay, granted, Jan Nyman was paralyzed in an oil rig accident and attempts suicide. He fails. While he recovers he gets to have sexual fantasies about his wife, Bess McNeill, after he urges her to go out and get some on his behalf. She has tons of sex. She thinks God is speaking to her. She ends up getting beaten to death and Jan’s all better just in time for the funeral. Big win for women’s rights!
  3. Antichrist. You can’t really mention Breaking the Waves without bringing in an even bigger score for women the world over. We’ve reviewed Antichrist in a previous Cinemulatto post. But how can we resist including it here? The mental breakdown after “She” loses her child? “He” only gets to keep his sanity, although later his penis gets bludgeoned. “She” gets to chop off her clitoris. Susan B. Anthony fought long and hard for such a privilege.
  4. Scarface (the Brian De Palma version). Say hello to my little trophy wife. She snorts coke all day and is devoid of mothering capabilities since “her womb is so polluted.” Tony Montana gets to build an empire before losing it. Where’s Elvira’s spin-off, where she becomes a gang warlord?
  5. The Accidental Tourist. We know this is based on a novel by a woman. Couldn’t this have been a case of alternative casting? Two women: one loses a child, another chases a man from her first appearance in the movie. You can catch him if you follow him on the job—as he travels the world and writes best-selling books. Who wants to be an author when you can work at a kennel in heels?
  6. Requiem for a Dream.
    “I stole a cop’s gun. Or I think I did. I definitely stole a TV.”
    “Yeah, well I was in a sex show with a double-headed dildo.”
    “So what? I lost an arm and my buddy’s in prison.”
    “What about your mom?”
    “She’s psychotic.”
    “So, wait. Motherhood and sex?”
    “Oh.”
  7. Leaving Las Vegas. A down and out guy controls his own destiny with the help of not a bartender, or a therapist, or a cop, but a prostitute. (For other titles in the “I’m here to forward your story and I either have a kid or a sex job or both” cf. The Wrestler, Taxi Driver, Pretty Woman, Trading Places, and maybe a few others.)
  8. Fight Club. I’ll be chain-smoking and waiting to have sex with you while you travel the world and double as the hot leader of an all-male wallop society. I have a cool costume and makeup, though.
  9. Only God Forgives. This film may not yet have a place in seminal film history, but Ryan Gosling’s blank stare is, by now, iconic. He spends his time with prostitutes. He reaches into his dead, overbearing mother’s womb. End scene.

These are just a few examples. We both know you’re familiar with more great ones.