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Entries in Racism (4)

Monday
Feb292016

Oscars make you uncomfortable? Good

I have a love/hate relationship with Hollywood.

Because when my debut novel landed on the NYT bestseller list and stuck around for two years, I also landed my first film agent. She enjoyed my book. And she told me that she could easily sell the film option. But she also told me that a film would never get made—because my main characters were…Chinese, Japanese, and black.

I’ll pause to let that sink in for a moment.

***

Still with me? 

Okay, so was this agent racist? No, she was kind of awesome, actually. But she had the odious task of telling me, that by Hollywood standards, my baby was ugly.

I didn’t agree. So I signed with another agent. And in my search I found myself bouncing about Hollywood, spending time in very nice offices, with very nice producers, who all kept saying—and this is an exact quote: 

“How do we mitigate the financial risk without a white, male lead?”

Uncomfortable? Need to pause again?

***

I love the famously cantankerous writer, Harlan Ellison, and envisioned him leaping across the table and punching someone in the gullet. I imagined him lighting garbage fires in elevators and burning studios to the ground, then salting the smoldering ruins. I daydreamed as I grit my teeth and kept moving. 

And HOTEL was finally optioned, albeit briefly, to the founding CEO of Village Roadshow, a gentleman who was specializing in Asian markets at the time and who had helped finance Avatar and Marley & Me. I say briefly, because he passed away a year later (RIP Greg Coote).

So yes, there are opportunities in Hollywood. But they are buried in what Chris Rock so aptly described as “Sorority Racism.” And passive racism is still racism. Sins of omission, while not sins of commission, are still sins.

And to deny the racist, exclusionary, whitewashing reality of Hollywood is not just uninformed nonsense—it’s actually enabling this institutionalized behavior.

I guess what I’m saying is—if last night’s Oscars made you feel a tad uncomfortable—great! That means your empathy muscles are asking for a workout. 

You can do the easy thing and shut down those feelings, deny what they’re telling you, or you can put yourself in the shoes of Hattie McDaniel who was the first black woman to win an Oscar, but had to play a maid 74 times, or in the shoes of Dean Tanaka and Chloe Wang who had to change their names to Dean Cain and Chloe Bennett to find success—entirely up to you. 

I’ll pause again to let you think about it.

Thursday
May222014

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Douche

A brilliant and thoughtful response to the Chipotle debacle.Not to keep beating the diversity drum but a few of us wrung our hands in worry when we heard about this and thought, no, they can't possibly be so culturally illiterate (like BookCon). Well, guess what kids, we were wrong.

Johanthan Safran Foerwhatever had a really cool idea. He said, "Hey, let's put literary stuff on Chipotle cups and bags!" And it's a brilliant publicity/marketing concept. The problem is, JSF (abbreviating because I can never pronounce his last name) has blinders on and he doesn't...even...know it.

He helped create the Cultivating Thought campaign featuring ten writers, including Malcom Gladwell and Toni Morrison. But none of them are Latinos. Granted, this is Chipotle, which is to Mexican food what Panda Express is to haute Chinese cuisine. Still. Junot Diaz? Luis Alberto Urrea? Borges? I'd actually eat at Chipotle for a Jorge Luis Borges cup!

Okay. Gotta run. I'm working on my Literary Fortune Cookie campaign for P.F. Chang's and I promised my friend, Jeff Yang, that I'd include at least one token Asian.

Peace, y'all.

Friday
May022014

A big THANK YOU to BookCon

There's been quite a viral uproar about BookCon. What's is BookCon? It's the big, grand, open-to-the-public day of Book Expo America, which is the largest book event in the country. And what did BookCon organizers do? Well, they created a line-up of literary luminaries consisting of 29 white people and a cat. (I'm not making this up).

So, naturally, everyone but Donald Sterling is quite upset.

(Heck, James Patterson is on a panel talking about children's books that he didn't even write. That's like the white CEO of P.F. Chang's being invited to compete on Iron Chef, but, hey, that's just piling on at this point).

But, in a weird way, I think we owe the folks at BookCon a big THANK YOU for pointing out that we are not in any way living in a post-racial world. And for giving the other 50% of Americans a rallying cry.

And if they ever want to include an Asian American author who wrote a book which spent two years on the NYT bestseller list, I might happen to know one.

***UPDATE 5/3/14***

BookCon has added Rachel Renee Russell--an African American author. At first they said she could be a moderator, but after realizing she'd sold more books than two of their panelists they agreed to let her actively participate. Kudos to Renee for her persistence (and insistence) and shame on BookCon for their tokenism. 

Monday
Apr072014

Why Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet will never be a movie

Ah, the movie question. Yup. It comes up a lot. So much that I might as well get out there with the truth of why Henry and Keiko are not welcome on the corner of Hollywood and Vine. Are you ready? Are you sitting down? It's okay...I'll wait.

The answer can be summed up in the question that was often asked of me when I met with several Hollywood producers and that was, "How do we mitigate the financial risk without a white male lead?"

I'll pause and let that soak in for a moment. While you're soaking, take a look at this image of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. I'll get to that in a sec.

Now where was I? Oh yes, Hollywood. Well, in case you're wondering, my answer to the aforementioned question was "First, you need to go perform hideous obscenities upon yourself." And the conversation went downhill from there.

Is Hollywood inherently racist? No. Seriously, they're not. But film making is a business that plays to the averages and in this case, the average ticket buyer is Caucasian, often male. So that leaves a movie where the main characters are Chinese and Japanese out of the realm of commercial viability.

Sure, there's always going to be a Slumdog Millionaire, but that's an outlier so far out I can't even think of another multicultural movie that had that kind of success in the US. Because there are no good stories? No, because no one is willing to take a chance. And despite selling more than a million copies of Hotel, my book is still a gamble most Hollywood financiers are unwilling to take. They'd rather dump the GNP of a small island nation into a film like, oh, say...Battleship.

Which brings me to the sidebar of this whole thing and that's Wonder Woman. We've had how many films staring Batman and Superman? (And coming soon, Batman vs. Superman, in which Wonder Woman gets to be IN the film, but isn't part of the title).

Is it because the character of Wonder Woman was once a Charlie's Angel-esque, T&A, 70's icon? Perhaps. But I'm guessing it's because to Hollywood, she's a bad bet--a poor wager. Why take the chance? Which makes me sad. Because if Hollywood is just now trying to figure out how to do a "white female lead" like Diana Prince AKA Wonder Woman, what chance do Henry & Keiko have?