Unfair to blame Hollywood racism on China

By Shing Tak Wong Source:Global Times Published: 2016-1-31 21:38:01

Illustration: Shen Lan/GT

Bill Maher, an American TV host, recently came up with an explanation for Hollywood's lack of diversity.

On a recent episode of his HBO show Real Time, Maher talked about a "dirty little secret," saying "most movies are made now with an eye to the foreign market, and Asians really are racist." He also said the Chinese don't want to see black people generally in their movies, but the Hollywood executives are, according to Maher, "'We're not racist, we just have to pretend to be racists because we're capitalists. We want to sell our movies in China (and) they don't like Kevin Hart.'"

Maher's remarks were immediately rejected by his other panelists. US House of Representative Alan Grayson half-jokingly shot back, "you just said they're racist, that makes you racist."

Let's go through the reasons why Maher's revelation of this dirty little secret was absurd.

Starting with the most obvious point, Hollywood had diversity issues long before China's film market became influential.

Minorities, especially Asians, in the US struggle to get roles with any depth or characters with any meaning. Stereotypes and typecasting abound. The lead roles are generally taken by white males, with female minorities as love interests and male minorities as supporting sidekicks.

Now it is true that some movies have tried to cater to the Chinese audience, but most of the films nominated for Oscars didn't.

Also we've seen what such catering looks like already.

It is releasing a Chinese version, having a couple of scenes set in China or some dialogue from a Chinese performer.

The catering was never about removing or limiting black people or any other minority.

If the Chinese audience is so influential, where are all the Chinese actors getting lead roles in Hollywood?

Say someone gives Maher the benefit of the doubt. Let's assume Maher was misunderstood.

Perhaps he meant, China's influence makes the problem worse rather than being the sole cause.

He was still trying to portray Hollywood as something that it wasn't. Earlier in the video Maher goes on about how "liberal" Hollywood is and how some people voted for 12 Years a Slave without seeing it.

Regardless of what he meant, what he actually did suggested that Hollywood has no problems and then pointed the finger at "racist Asians" and China.

That is a disingenuous diversion of the topic. It makes no sense to say there is racism in China and therefore Maher was right about diversity in the Oscars and Hollywood.

The truth is, none of this is surprising. China gets blamed in the West for all kinds of things.

Before this, also involving Hollywood was the infamous Star Wars poster. The poster in China, where black actor John Boyega's character was shrunk, was apparently also China's fault and another sign of Chinese being racist.

Anybody with a shred of common sense could tell you that white executives at Disney are in control of the Star Wars franchise and they decide how to promote the film. Even if they assumed some kind of benefit in shrinking the character, they are still the ones who did it.

Any normal sense of responsibility goes out the window when it comes to China and the poster example is now being used as "evidence" that Maher was right.

Beyond Hollywood you see similar China bashing in US election rhetoric.

Hollywood has systemic problems when it comes to minorities (particularly the roles Asians get, and don't) and attempts to shift the blame to "racist Asians" must be rejected.

The author is a writer from Kulture Media, media watchdog on behalf of Asian Americans. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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