Tuesday, August 05, 2014

The Color Of Brown

I think critic Stephanie Zacherek overpraises the James Brown biopic Get On Up.  But that's her business.  What caught my attention was a claim similar to what others* have made.

[Director Tate] Taylor, a white guy, is also the director of another civil-rights drama, The Help, and some may question, reasonably enough, why there aren't more directors of color around to make movies like this one.

Why is it reasonable to question this?  I don't doubt there are directors of color around who could make a good bio of James Brown. (There are tons of great Asian directors who'd probably have jumped at the chance.) There are also quite a few white directors not named Tate Taylor who might have knocked it out of the park. It's not the job of producers to hire someone with the right skin color.  It's their job to get a director who will do a good--or with any luck, great--job on the film.

Now is it true that African-Americans might bring a certain understanding to the subject. I'd guess the average African-American understands James Brown better than the average non-African American.  For that matter, Italians may be better doing Italian issues, Irish doing Irish issues, Jews doing Jewish issues, and so on. And they're probably more likely to be attracted to such projects.

But so what?  Directing is a tough racket, but talent (which, among other things, often includes empathy for those different from you) knows no color. No project, big or small, belongs by moral right to anyone.  Nor should any group be ghettoized into mostly directing certain types of films.  I certainly have no trouble with an African-American directing a James Brown picture, but I'd also have no trouble with one directing a Western, or a science fiction fantasy, or a drama set in Scandinavia featuring only pale white people.

(By the way, if you really want to learn about Brown's life, you could hardly do better than read The One: The Life And Music Of James Brown.  Written by my (white) friend R. J. Smith.)

*Of course, Zacherek liked the movie.  If you want to see the opinion of someone who's got some problems, check out what "Award-winning screenwriter" Gregory Allen Howard has to say about "The Whitewashing of James Brown":

There were several meetings. Eight white men and two white women. Was this a meeting of the Mormon Glee Club? The New White Citizens Council? Perhaps a Klan meeting? No. That meeting was the creative team for the new James Brown movie, "Get On Up." Welcome to post-racial Hollywood where if you host a fundraiser for Barack Obama, you're freed of the burden of hiring black writers.


Blogger ColumbusGuy said...

Seems you are being a bit ungenerous, LAGuy. It's useful to know that hosting a fundraiser for the big O frees you of obligations.

2:15 AM, August 05, 2014  
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