In-Flight Entertainment: The Hollywood Blackout Continues
The 14-hour flight from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Sydney, Australia, provides for idle hands and a lot of idle time. Thank God for Qantas Airway’s in-flight entertainment system, which might be one of the best among the major international carriers. For my March 2 trek, it offered a wide assortment of movies and TV shows, recent releases, comedy and indie favorites, documentaries, and almost all of the 2011 Oscar nominees. The one thing missing: a significant number of black faces on those mini-TV screens.
Looks like very little has changed in the five months since I last travelled Qantas’s BA-to-Sydney route. Different movies, same old color scheme. Here’s a breakdown of what I saw — and what I didn’t.
Blacklisted Blacks There were roles for both Jeff Goldblum and Patrick Wilson in both “Morning Glory” and “The Switch,” while Minnie Driver found work in “Conviction” and an episode of “Modern Family,” but there wasn’t a B- or C-list brother or sister in sight. And speaking of “Modern Family,” for a show about a supposedly all-inclusive clan, with a gay couple, a Latina bombshell and an Asian baby in the ranks, there’s an alarming shortage of blacks. In fact, the only one I saw in the three episodes I watched was a member of the under-achieving daughter’s boyfriend’s band — and he didn’t have a single speaking line.
Warped History and Geographical Lessons So let’s get this straight: Apparently, there were/are no blacks in World War II-era England (“The King’s Speech”), the American wild west (“True Grit”), the modern-day Ozarks (“Winter’s Bone”), enrolled in Harvard during the formative years of Facebook (“The Social Network”), or interested in ballet (“Black Swan”). They just get to occasionally and sparsely populate dumb comedies (“Due Date”) and dumber action flicks (“Red,” “Unstoppable”).
Racist Rivers? There also were no blacks in the titular star’s constellation of friends, advisers and minions in “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,” but at one point, the comic had the gall to ask if people would be offended if she referred to First Lady Michelle Obama as “Blackie O.” Um, too late, Joan.
White Comedy TV always has done better than film when it comes to representing blacks (though not always by much), but there’s no “True Blood,” “Criminal Minds,” “NCIS: Los Angeles” and “Mike & Molly,” all of which prominently feature black actors in roles that aren’t criminals, convicts or crass stereotypes, and nothing with Loretta Devine, a rare consistently employed black actress. Instead Qantas Entertainment offers multiple episodes of the pitch-white “How I Met Your Mother” and “Two and a Half Men” as well as “The Big Bang Theory,” which has a Jewish and Indian brainiac-geek — the latter is naturally named Raj, like the leukemia-stricken Indian character currently on the “90210″ canvas — but not a black one.
Qantas’s single episode of “Glee” does have Mercedes and a bunch of songs by Madonna, who was largely influenced by black people, but it’s a minor concession. Getting back to “Two and a Half Men” for a moment, considering all of the women Charlie Sheen has bedded in the sitcom’s eight seasons, why can’t I recall a single one of them ever being black? Am I missing one? Shouldn’t someone be ranting about that on Piers Morgan’s talk show?
Qantas’s Theory of Flight, or White Supremacy up in the Air If the Qantas movie and TV menu is any indication, frequent fliers looking for a splash of color might settle for Jamie Foxx in “Due Date,” Denzel Washington in “Unstoppable,” and Morgan Freeman in “Red,” but they won’t watch anything from Tyler Perry or even a few episodes of the Oprah Winfrey Show, although it recently spent quality time Down Under. They need multiple channels dedicated to “Hereafter” (starring Matt Damon), “Conviction” (with Hilary Swank), and “Burlesque” (a Cher/Christina Aguilera diva fest), but they aren’t willing to sit through “For Colored Girls” — or any movie featuring one in a starring role.
Not that Hollywood has ever made movies with female black leads with any regularity. But the situation has deteriorated much further since Angela Bassett stopped getting work. Now even Academy Award winner Halle Berry seems under-employed. That should give Whoopi Goldberg something else to bitch about.
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