Now you see me… No, actually, you don’t

It is safe to say that when we think of old Hollywood, an image comes to mind. An actor, The clothing, hair, or music all evoke the era of some of the most highly regarded classic films. However these films are only as good as the studio’s which produced them, and the studio system which upheld them. In an book on Hollywood, the Hortense Powdermaker discusses the actors, the stereotypes and the construction of stars and their persona’s.  In considering the talentless figures, their only value being their looks,  Powdermaker argues that while stereotypes exist, that is  not an accurate representation of actors.

There seems to be as much diversity in intelligence and ability among them as there is among Hollywood writers or any other group of people in and out of Hollywood….. Many actors are quite aware of the contempt in which they are held. A few have accepted the stereotyped picture as some members of a minority group accept the position accorded them by a dominant group. (Powdermaker 265-6)

These sections comment on the diversity, in terms of the acting ability,  of actors, and their resultant treatment, and experiences within Hollywood. Though the surrounding language and the dated nature of the piece are clear in confining conversations of diversity to the marketability of a star, I cannot help but consider the piece, like I do the pictures of the time. Both inadvertently consider race, itself in what they do not say. The film industry, like the medium, was not meant to accommodate black  individuals.  Developed with regard to white skin, black bodies were excluded physically and representationally. Today we see black representations from black Hollywood directors. Writing oneself into existence onscreen, physically positioning oneself in the industry and social space.

When you google black people winning...

When you google black people winning…

This article written in, and focusing on a historical moment makes countless references to other minority groups and moves forward with it’s ideas about the “dream factory.” In a year where we are still celebrating history making moments for black people in the film and television industry’s it is not surprising  that people of color are still working to produce ( as in actualize) themselves onscreen. It is essential that the big names in Hollywood, Steve McQueen, Spike Lee, and Shonda Rhimes are allowing for more diverse representations. Is it important that the people bringing these representations are also of color, of course! But it also follows a pattern of representing oneself.

One might ask why are we still having these moments of seeming victory coupled with disappointment at the fact that these historical moments are only just happening.  In literally and figuratively working to produce oneself in order to  and in the past the only people doing that were white. Though represented, non- normative groups are still “positioned” by their normative counterparts.The foundations which allow for the representations on-screen to remain as racially diverse as they have always been have just rebranded themselves and continue to protect the racism, sexism, gender normative representations which have always been supported by the Hollywood system.  In repositioning oneself representationally reinstate oneself, creating a transitional character which reaffirms one’s identity onscreen and off.

Powdermaker, Hortense. Hollywood, the dream factory: An anthropologist looks at the movie-makers. Boston: Little, Brown, 1950.


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