Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Two Black Actors Missing in U.K.

Okay, so we don't need to issue an AMBER Alert or anything... But Faizon Love and Kali Hawk are missing from the U.K. version of posters for their recent movie, Couples Retreat. The film is a comedy about four couples who go on a group vacation in an island paradise where (naturally) hilarity ensues. Three of the four couples are comprised of white actors, with the fourth couple being Love and Hawk, who are African American. There's always one token black character in these buddy films, or maybe not? They didn't just remove their pictures from the poster, but their names as well. But then again, yeah—one kind of expects someone named "Faizon" to be black (although some might have thought he was perhaps the sibling of Jennifer Love Hewitt, right?).

Universal Pictures has apologized for any offense caused by the actors' removal, claiming that they just wanted  "to simplify the poster to actors who are most recognizable in international markets." Mmkay, so did they "simplify" the film and remove the black actors altogether? Of course not! The black characters are integral to the plot as without a black man and his storied package, the nudity joke wouldn't be as funny. I wonder how many tickets were purchased by women hoping to get a look at Love's penis...Oh, and Hawk's role was pivotal too—as without her, there would have been no stereotypically loud and obnoxious attitude-having, neck-wiggling, eye-rolling black woman.

Personally, I find it curious that the characters were removed on the premise that the black actors were less recognizable than their white counterparts. I mean, Kristen Bell and Malin Ackerman are household names, after all. Right?

Universal has assured us that they will not use the altered posters in any other markets—great! But what does it say that in 2009, marketing executives feel that not only are black actors on an ensemble film poster distracting or less "simple" than a poster with only white actors—but that we are too stupid or clueless to notice it. And maybe, just maybe, it speaks to the fact that some people don't see the token black friend character as necessary or realistic.

Granted, this movie is not of one of my preferred genres, but honestly, if the black actors made the sophomoric and sub-par movie, don't they deserve to be credited with having done it?

Monday, November 16, 2009

"Skin" Movie Goes More Than Skin Deep

      (L-R) Sandra Laing with Actresses Ella Ramangwane and Sophie Okonedo

I recently had the privilege of seeing the film Skin, starring Sophie Okonedo. The true story of Sandra Laing, Skin chronicles the life of a girl born to white Afrikaner parents in 1955. Sandra's skin is inexplicably dark and her hair tightly curled. In Apartheid South Africa, this can only be a tale of heartbreak and struggle.

Sandra's appearance is explained as a "throwback," a genetic occurrence of enough latent black genes in each of her parents to produce a "coloured" child. Sandra's life is defined by her skin color and hair texture, despite her parents' white status and her father's fight to have her classified as white to match that of her parents and her upbringing.

This movie spoke to me on so many levels. Sure, there was the raw, human emotion of Sandra and her family's struggle, but there was also the internal struggle she felt. The juxtaposition of who she was on the outside—a black woman in Apartheid South Africa, and who she was on the inside—a white girl interrupted by the ugly truth of race, predjudice and injustice.

While I cannot identify with Apartheid, I do know the feeling of being seen as one thing while actually being another. Ironically, my situation is the exact opposite of hers; while people saw her as black and she was raised as white, I was raised as black and people often see me as white, Latina or some sort of Mediterranean ethnicity. After a long-held hatred for the word "exotic," I have finally learned to embrace and accept it when used to describe my appearance.

Watching this film, I revisited moments of wondering how my more traditionally African American-appearing brothers' lives differ from mine. I attempted to imagine Sandra's isolation and loneliness and failed, miserably. It was a sad and sorry wake up call for me regarding just how important the hue of one's skin really is in our world and our society. Try as we might to claim that we have evolved socially and that we care more for the person inside, rather than the shade of the skin on the outside—this film is a gripping reminder that the world and even family is not colorblind.

Sandra Laing's story is one that everybody of every color and ethnicity should see. This is a film that truly got under my Skin.