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HOLLYWOOD'S RACIAL STEREOTYPES: WHY THEY DO IT

by Jeremy Slater, guest contributor...[November 15, 2006]

 

 

 

[HollywoodInvestigator.com]  In the professional screenwriter's arsenal of word-type-thingies, few tools are as useful as the racial stereotype.

In screenwriting, blank space is more valuable than, say, the life of an unborn child. This is because each and every screenplay is a desperate race to finish your story before the studio executive loses interest and abandons your script in search of greener intellectual pastures, such as the scriptment for Deal or No Deal: The Movie

This means you must make every paragraph, every line, every cocksucking comma COUNT.

So go ahead. Try to create nuanced, believable characters with richly-developed backstories and motivations, all set against a backdrop of intergalactic moonshiners in a chilling future where parties have been outlawed and only outlaws party. You can't do it, can you?

Enter the stereotype.


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Stereotypes are invaluable because audiences have been conditioned to expect certain behaviors from certain types of characters. The black sidekick? A hilarious motormouth. The gay best friend? A mincing, catty rogue with a heart of gold. The Italian guy? A dirty, dirty rapist.

The point is that audiences will happily accept established archetypes in place of genuine character development, thus freeing up the remaining pages for more important matters, like that scene where Buck Cracker throws a knife right at the camera while we go swirling around in bullet time.  Holy shit, that's going to be so great.

Even better is the fact that packing your script with insulting stereotypes can often baffle your critics into a sort of stunned, drooling silence as they try to figure out what message you're trying to convey. There's no way the writer would have intentionally made his villain a bling-sporting thug rapper named Shooty McCrack, they'll reason. I must be missing something. What they're missing, of course, is the fact that you don't give a rat's ass and you just want to get paid. But hey, the polite, nonconfrontational reviews don't hurt!

Here's an example from a script we're currently speccing in an attempt to cash in on the Crash craze of dewy-eyed, racially-charged pablum. It's called We're All So Different, and it's the touching story of nine stereotypes -- including a black NBA player, an Asian sushi chef, a Mexican dishwasher, and a heroic white firefighter -- who are trapped in an elevator for ninety long minutes, where they're forced to confront their own prejudices and insecurities. And also the NBA player, who tries to mug them all.

Here's a sample:

 

INT. ELEVATOR

PADDY O'SHAMROCK weaves drunkenly across the enclosed space. His face as red as a Blarney Stone covered in red paint.

                        PADDY
                     (vomiting)
                  Erin go blaaaaaaugh!

The contents of his stomach (Irish breakfast stuff) splatter across the white shoes of old MRS. WEALTHYWHITE. She sniffs snootily.

                        MRS. WEALTHYWHITE
                  In my day, we used the bodies 
                  of Irish children to stoke the 
                  furnaces of progress.  Things
                  have certainly changed.

                        HECTOR
                  Ai-yai-yai, you are right,
                  seenorita!

                        MRS. WEALTHYWHITE
                  Clean my shoes, you.

                        HECTOR
                  Oh, si, si.

Hector eagerly wipes her shoes clean using his own hair.  He waits, trembling, for a tip.  Mrs. Wealthywhite sighs and tosses a shiny new nickel on the elevator floor.

In an instant, Hector is slammed aside by LEVI SCHNOZZSTEIN, who goes scrambling for the coin, his eyes all ablaze.

                        LEVI
                  MONEY!  MONEY!  OH SWEET 
                  YAHWEH, IT'S MONEY!

 



 

Insulting? Perhaps. But remember: you can justify any uncreative stereotype simply by wrapping up your script with a trite, simplistic moral about our shared humanity. See, your viewers will think, that writer wasn't just taking the lazy way out. He was trying to enrich our lives.

If you can send the audience reeling out of the theater, drunk on the noble power of the human spirit, they may not even remember your failings as a writer, such as the fact that you never got around to naming half of your characters.

For example:

 

EXT. CITY STREET - DAY

The doors open and the refugees from the elevator come stumbling out.  Blinking in the harsh light of day.  Changed forevermore.

Across the street, a bloom of fire suddenly erupts from a neighboring building.  The firefighter starts forward...then pauses.

                        JOHN McAPPLE
                 Oh...it's just a Korean 
                 dry-cleaning service.

Yet as John watches the burning Koreans flop and flounder across the street, something changes deep down in his little white heart.  (Note to SOUND GUY: This is the part where the music goes BA-DUM-BAAAAA.)

John starts forward.  Again.

                        JOHN McAPPLE
                  Stand back, folks.  I've
                  got a job to do.

And his new friends all cheer.

                        PADDY
                  Yer a bonny fine lad, 
                  laddie-boy!

                        MRS. WEATHERWHITE
                  Three cheers for our men 
                  and women in uniform!

                        G-DAWG "DUNK" JORDAN
                  I've decided to go back to 
                  college!
 

And the sunlight...oh, it is beautiful.

FADE OUT.

 

Copyright 2006 by Jeremy Slater.

 

Jeremy Slater blogs for How to Write Screenplay, Badly.
You may also want to read these books on Hollywood stereotyping:

* Black Magic: White Hollywood and African American Culture.

* Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People.

* Making the White Man's Indian: Native Americans and Hollywood Movies.

* Hollywood's Image of the South: A Century of Southern Films.

 

 

 

 

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