“[Imagine] a producer says, ‘Guy and girl meet at an ice skating rink. They fall in love, but she has to move away.’ If you say that to anyone, including an Asian person, you picture a white person because that’s what’s become normative to us. We need to have a picture of Asian Americans… We have a unique experience that has myriad opportunities for storytelling, if other people are willing to tell those stories.”
– Constance Wu, star of Fresh off the Boat
Hollywood has a race problem.
This blog can’t fix the problem but it can start a conversation about pop culture and racism. Step one is acknowledgement that moves beyond #OscarsSoWhite.
Growing up, my screen only reflected stereotypes back at me: gas station owner, taxi driver and yes, even terrorist. When it came time for dress up, I was told my only option was Princess Jasmine from Aladdin. Despite absolutely no similarities in our features, it seemed the only logical choice because our brownness matched and that was enough for doppelganger occasions.
Regardless of the quality of work, I instinctively and defensively cheer on the Mindy’s and Aziz’s of this industry, experiencing what Jenny Yang has coined “rep sweats.” “Rep sweats” have been best defined by Kat Chow as “the feeling of anxiety that can come with watching TV shows or movies starring people who look like you, especially when People Who Look Like You tend not to get a lot of screen time… All of a sudden a show with a Black cast, a Latino cast, an Asian cast- you can’t judge it on its own merit- it has to stand for so much more.” When we watch Julia Roberts, we do not assume she represents all white females and yet with Asians that boundary is non-existent. I cannot wait for the day that an Asian character is featured on a movie or television show and I can comfortably have no interest in watching it.
“When you look at posters for movies or TV shows, see if it makes sense to switch the title to What’s Gonna Happen to This White Guy? (Forrest Gump, The Martian, Black Mass). … Even at a time when minorities account for almost 40% of the American population, when Hollywood wants an ‘everyman,’ what it really wants is a straight white guy. But a straight white guy is not every man. The ‘everyman’ is everybody.”
– Aziz Ansari, creator and star of Masters of None
I need to believe that it is good storytelling that captivates an audience and not skin color. So it is with this mindset I will see how films of yesterday and today hold up against The Racial Bechdel Test.
The rules are simple.
Each entry will include:
Name of the movie
Basic Plot Summary
Box office gross
And answer the following questions:
- Are there two or more named People of Color? Named is the keyword. An un-credited one line extra or an actor speaking only dialogue as part of a group a la *everyone cheers* does not count.
- Do they talk to each other? The POCs must have a conversation.
- About something other than White people? It cannot be about the White characters in the film.
- Asian Bonus Question: Is there an Asian character?
Additional commentary may be added at the blogger’s discretion.
To pass the test, the movie has to have “yes” answers to questions 1-3.
Films based on historical events and figures are off-limits (The Pursuit of Happyness (2006), Spotlight (2015)). We cannot rewrite history.
Films with a large majority of cast and lead characters as non-humans are off-limits (Finding Dory (2016), The Jungle Book (2016)). Ellen DeGeneres as the voice of Dory does not necessarily mean the blue fish is of White background.
Films adapted from non-fiction books (Gone Girl (2014), Me Before You (2016)) are fair game.
Let The Racial Bechdel Games begin.