Tuesday, 6 December 2011

A Whiter Shade Of Pale

Yesterday morning, while waiting for a bus home from the delights of family grocery shopping, I found myself standing beside a large poster promoting the seasonal rom-com-schmaltz-fest, "New Year's Eve". Immediately I was struck by two things - the relatively large number of 'featured' cast members, and the fact that only 2 of the 18 cheery, highly-expensive-dental-plan weel-kent faces on display were black. In New York. At the tail end of 2011...
Garry Marshall's New York - a touch light, perhaps?
Now, I'd like to point out that I'm a Mr. McSkinny-white-ass, living in a McWorryingly-obese-white-ass country, (until the latest census data appears in 2012, best estimate we have is that c.3-4% of the Scottish population are from "visible ethnic minorities"), but this comparative absence of non-white folk even struck me as being odd. I mean, this piece of lightweight sappy hokum is set in New York, supposedly one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world, right? Still, I thought, best check the statistics before rushing to make any judgements.

So I did.

Fortunately, the US Census Bureau have a very handy website, with all sorts of fascinating information available to those who thirst for demographic enlightenment.

For instance, did you know that in 2010, "Black" & "Asian" people made up 38.2% of the city's 8,175,133 residents?

That "White persons not Hispanic" were only 33.3% ?

And that between 2005 and 2009, 47.1% of the over-5s spoke a language other than English at home?

Ok, so the film isn't remotely representative, but they could, of course, use what might be termed the "Friends" defence - that this particular group of people occupy a small social niche where they just happen not to encounter/know/work with/etc many people from non-white ethnic groups. (I never said it was a good defence, but it has to be allowed as a possibility, however miniscule).

In this case, however, the film's own production notes (available online here) stress the diverse range of characters & locations within New York, which leaves us with the thorny question - is there some unspoken "difficulty" in the film industry with a portrayal that's a bit closer to the demographics?

Racial/ethnic invisibility in the media is a serious issue - why aren't we seeing more non-white faces on the screen (beyond the usual litany of "Guns, Drugs & Ho's" stereotypes)? Can "the audience" really have a problem with the idea that in this sort of syrupy, no-mental-effort-required pabulum, 4 (or, really pushing the boat out here, maybe even 5) of the cast could be black? (With a token Asian as "comedy sidekick", of course, otherwise it'd never sell...).

I'm the last person who'd argue that introducing box-ticking quotas ever solved anything - "Hey, Carla, for this next scene we're going to need the Native American, the Thai ladyboy and the half-Hungarian albino lesbian, ok..?" - but seriously, if this big-budget, big-star, mush-fest is anything to go by, perhaps it's time to introduce busing to Hollywood.

It can work.

Just a thought.


juledude said...

It helps to emember who owns the bus. That will help explain efficacy.

andy gilmour said...

very true, sir, very true.