Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Media Matters: The 7 o'clock news with Shaquille O'Neal

 This feature can also be found at the South West Londoner, here.

The other day, I was in a conversation on the internet about the development of an indie video game. The main characters were to have voice actors, and it just so happened one of the cast was a black guy.

The number of people who suddenly yelled "He should be voiced by Samuel L. Jackson!" was overwhelming.

It made me wonder about the presence of black actors in major releases these days. Setting aside that the internet is filled with idiots, is Samuel L. Jackson the only option Hollywood has for 'the black guy'?
Well, no, I'm being hyperbolic - we also have Will Smith. If the role requires someone older, or a narrator, Morgan Freeman's usually the port of call.

There are others (no need to bring up each name of every rapper who's turned a hand to film, for example), but they're very rarely cut out for anything other than a comedy relief role.

If Hollywood needs a British black actor for whatever reason, they're stuck. Ocean's Twelve had to settle for Don Cheadle putting on a disgustingly poor Cockney accent.

That's not to say that there's a total dearth of black actors out there, it's just that they often don't seem to get the kind of high profile exposure that other actors of a similar (or even worse) skill level get.

And that's if the audience don't just dismiss the presence of black actors outright. If you remember back in 2011, Idris Elba had a solid role as Heimdall, in Thor. Naturally, the internet filled with complaints about a black character appearing in what they considered exclusively white mythology.

The Hunger Games had Cinna, a fashion designer played by Lenny Kravitz (who absolutely rocked the gold eyeshadow, by the way). As the book made no direct reference to Cinna's race, there were loads of complaints that they dared to put someone non-white in the role. In fact, there was a character that specifically was mentioned to be black in the text that got the same treatment.

It seems there's a general theme of scripts not giving scope for black characters, or an audience that's unaccepting of them. Though while believable, those are both entirely awful excuses.

But hey, what about ordinary television? TV presenters and show hosts aren't limited by a script to be white, so the demographic ratios should be better, right?

Well, according to Reggie Yates, 29, it's scary how few black faces there are on UK prime-time television.
Himself the only black host on Saturday night television (He hosts The Voice), he feels that not enough is done to accurately reflect the British population.

He told The Sun on the 16th that it was intimidating to be alone in a demographic.

“There’s more opportunity in America — and a bigger black audience," he said.

He's backed up by a comment from Lenny Henry, 54, after the Bafta TV awards last weekend.

A successful comedian in his own right, he said: "I’m working on things and trying to bring about change, but I can’t do it all on my own. We need to invest in these programmes, in rainbow casting, in all of the great black writers, producers and directors who make these programmes."

The point about there being a bigger pool of black TV personalities and actors in the US is a good one. Maybe the solution is to do use our favourable exchange rate, and import more diverse actors from overseas.

I can see it now. Donald Glover hosting CBBC, Lawrence Fishburne starring in endless Channel 4 gritty dramas, Shaquille O'Neal reading the news headlines on BBC Breakfast.

Why not go the whole hog and get me on the television? I would make an incredible game show presenter! Take Me Out would never be the same again.

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