“Close enough!” said Vanity Fair’s editors.
Any viewer of South Park or consumer of popular culture will recognize the above character as “Token Black,” the lone regular African-American character on the show. The character was created to skewer the practice of popular entertainment including few people of color in predominantly white casts, and the shows creators go about this with glorious abandon.
With the recent conversation about people of color in film (Selma gets beat up for neglecting the Great White Hope) and television (white people watch Scandal!), it would seem that the entertainment industry would pay attention, if for no other reason than to broaden audiences and make more money.
Then, this cover was released:
Oh, look, Vanity Fair gave Token a place on its cover.
The wildly talented David Oyelowo is the lone person of color featured, and he’s in the fold, so you won’t find him looking back at you on the magazine rack; that honor goes to Channing Tatum, Amy Adams, and Reese Witherspoon. I don’t want to hear that it’s because of who was Oscar-nominated this year: Tatum wasn’t, nor was Oscar Isaac.
Now, please don’t get me wrong – I am not disparaging the talent of any of these actors (I’m ride-or-die for Benedict Cumberbatch, even through Gaffegate). Actually, I revise that, as I don’t think that Sienna Miller is very good, but back to my regularly scheduled rant.
I do believe that there are other actors worthy of a position on this cover: Gina Rodriguez is a delight, Dev Patel works consistently, Kumail Nanjiali is funny as hell, and Steven Yuen is a household name (at least his character Glenn is). I hate that there aren’t more artists of color on the tip of my tongue to include, but I just don’t see them as much, even though I make it a point to watch television and movies with diverse casts, and those with cultural worldviews different than mine. I really hate that I can’t rattle off a roll call of non-white actors.
Remember last year, when we had Lupita Nyong’o, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Barkhad Abdi, and Steve McQueen? A good year for people of African descent.
Do you know what is at the forefront of my mind when I think of movies I’ve seen advertised ad nauseam recently? Kevin Costner. His two recent films make me want to vomit, and I haven’t even seen them; he’s really trying to become Mr. Great White Hope 2015 between Black or White, in which he apparently has to deal with his mixed-race granddaughter’s “other” family and McFarland, USA in which he “saves” young Mexican men through the power of Cross Country. Wow, Kevin, what would brown people do without you? Maybe next you can make a film about adopting a plucky Asian child, who is readily available due to overpopulation and female infanticide – save them all, Uncle Kevin! I think that Black or White has already bombed (sorry, Octavia Spencer, but nobody forced you to sign the contract), and I can only hope that McFarland, USA will meet the same fate.
In the meantime, let’s demand an end to lip service about diversity, and demand it. I want to see stories from others’ points of view. I want to learn about their experiences through art. I want to see the world reflected in my entertainment, not a whitewashed version of it. Don’t you?