Film people talk about racism and sexism in film, anonymously

1071936_hateKaren Healey highlighted this link on her LiveJournal, and I encourage everyone to check it out. It’s just what I’ve been talking about for years, the faux-liberalism of Hollywood.

“Hollywood is anything but liberal. I call them liberal bigots. Hollywood is filled with liberal bigots, and they use the thing of being liberal as a reason for being bigoted, for if they’d listen to themselves talk, and listen to their friends talk, they would find that they tell way too many black jokes, ethnic jokes.”

Yeah… listening is not really a skill required of the Hollywood elite. Talking super-loud in restaurants so everyone will know I’m A Somebody? That’s more on their level.

“I went to a meeting at Warner Bros., with a producer and a director and an exec. I’m sitting there, and I’m a black writer going to write about this black guy. I won’t say what he did, because that’d give away who it was. So before the meeting started, the three white guys started telling towelhead jokes: ‘This towelhead this, this towelhead that.’ And I’m sitting there listening to them tell these towelhead jokes. The Warner Bros. exec started it, and then the producer and this director chimed in on it. I couldn’t believe this was taking place. I didn’t say a word; you know I’m not going to say an N-word joke or tell a towelhead joke because I’m next. So I’m listening to this. Then, afterwards, they then start talking about this black project, which I had no interest in pitching, because I thought, ‘You’re some of the most insincere sons of bitches I ever met in my life’ – motherfuckers is the better word. I had another life before I became a writer, and I’d never heard any shit like this before. I probably gave them one of the most insincere pitches I ever gave in my life because I didn’t want to be a part of [anything with] these three assholes. I couldn’t believe they were doing it. It was totally unnecessary.”

I’m sure this writer was just being oversensitive. Right? /sarcasm

“I remember when I produced my very first movie. I was sitting in a room with a very famous director and his development staff. I was the only female in the room, and I kept making suggestions to cut different scenes, [like] one too many funerals. And I was completely ignored. Cut to this very famous director. He would say the same exact thing that I had said, not even a minute after I said it. And everyone at the meeting would be like, ‘Oh, yes. Good idea. That’s what we should do!’ It was like I never said it. I was invisible. I don’t know if that was sexism, but it sure felt like it. My opinion didn’t matter. Why was I talking?

Sadly, this happens to women outside of film a whole lot, too. The scary thing is, it proves they actually are listening and our opinions actually do matter, except they must be appropriated and reissued by The Man. This is pretty much the apex of narcissistic entitlement.

The sad thing about them is that you’ve experienced bigotry all of your life, and you know bigotry when you see it. But some of them actually feel that they know more about being black than you do. That’s happened on more than one occasion. I was in a meeting, and a question came up about being black and about dealing with racism, and I said, ‘Well, that was always important to me.’ Then one of the execs in the meeting zoomed in, and this is a child of privilege, to try to presume to tell me what it was like to be black: ‘Well, some of my African-American friends…’ which I always find totally amusing, because we’re black. You’re white, we’re black, but they always try to preface it with ‘Some of my African-American friends…’ or ‘Maybe the African-American feels…’ Or the real cheap shot is to try to trivialize it with, ‘Well, I know what it’s like, because I was discriminated against because I had long hair,’ or because of this or that, which is totally different. They can tell what I am two blocks away. If I’m just walking toward people, if I get on the elevator, I don’t have to say a word. Everybody cringes before I can even open my mouth.

But Mr. Honky knows more than anyone about everything! He has demographics and spreadsheets about What It’s Like To Be You.

I can’t tell you how many times Mr. Honky has patiently explained to me how my interpretation of my own life is incorrect, and no one had ever actually been sexist toward me – I was just being all negative and defensive when I imagined that. In truth, the men I thought were being sexist? Probably loved me and admired me, and just didn’t know how to express it! Thanks, Mr. Honky, that makes it all better. And you know what? Those stubs where your legs used to be? I didn’t really just chop them off with a meat cleaver. You’re just looking at life through a fog of defensiveness, like you boys tend to do. I hope you’ll feel better now you realize you were just imagining that I maimed you. Here, take this mop and clean up that blood you got on the floor – it’s kind of disgusting.

When you practice it, when you turn down a meeting about any black project, you’re practicing racism. But you’ll take some stupid black project, and you’re practicing racism, because it fits your stereotype of what we are as a people. But anything that shows us as human, oh, my God: ‘No, this doesn’t ring true to me.’”

This is very like a story an African-American woman once recounted to Gategrrl and me: she had pitched a semi-autobiographical story to an exec, but he didn’t think that sort of thing happened to real people. Because only people he relates to are “real.”

“An African-American executive was interested in doing a project with an African-American writer and an African-American director. She mentioned the project to her boss. She and her boss proceeded to get on a conference call with the African-American director’s agent. The agent answered the phone with such zest, she began talking prior to letting the agent know that there was somebody else on the phone, and proceeded to talk about a high-profile project at the studio, and then he went into mentioning the African-American project and said, ‘We’re not even worried about n—– films.’ Shortly thereafter, the African-American executive resigned. There’s so much racism going on that we’re just used to it. It’s hard to pick out a moment when you’re not discriminated against.”

Had to include that one just in case we still have some Marcia Clarks floating around going, “Like, gosh, wow, I didn’t think people were racist anymore! I’ve never heard that word in my life!”

There is a ton more to read in that article – I’ve only highlighted a few tales.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Was it worse than you expected? About what you expected? Did you find the “Gosh, I don’t think things are bad at all, must just be women don’t like directing” stories that I did not quote here sensible and well-informed, or did you dismiss them as privileged ignorance like I did?


  1. says

    I’m surprised to hear about the jokes and the slurs. I’m guessing they just weren’t paying attention to less powerful people around them and so considered themselves to be just in private or something.

    I wasn’t at all surprised by the person who had their ideas ignored while the famous director was listened to. That’s a long recognized bit of human behavior. Often in a comedic story where a villain has an advisor, the advisor will suggest a course of action, have it rejected, and then have the villain suggest the exact same course of action.

    I think racism/sexism comes into that example more when people are perceived as having lower status because they’re a racial minority or female. I think that comes into play more not when dealing with famous directors but with people closer in the totem pole grab credit for ideas.

  2. sbg says

    Sadly, this happens to women outside of film a whole lot, too. The scary thing is, it proves they actually are listening and our opinions actually do matter, except they must be appropriated and reissued by The Man. This is pretty much the apex of narcissistic entitlement.

    Shoot, I think I’ve mentioned it happening to me on this very blog, and how frustrating it is to be this invisible person.

    Sadly, I find none of the stories surprising. Disappointing, yes, but not surprising. People: the more privileged we are, the more we seem to suck.

    • inbloom says

      The sad part is, being the “invisible one” in the room, even happens around my male friends occasionally.

  3. says

    I think racism/sexism comes into that example more when people are perceived as having lower status because they’re a racial minority or female.

    Yeah, because it suggests that the ruling class believes it is entitled to the intellectual products of the “lower status” people. When an unmixed group of white straight men do this to each other, making seniority the determinant of status, that’s different because the guys currently low on the totem pole can expect to eventually become the ones purloining everyone else’s ideas. People from other demographics are not necessarily in line for those privileges.

    SBG, yes, you have mentioned that in a comment around here somewhere. Wasn’t long ago, either. It’s a painfully common experience.

  4. Patrick J McGraw says

    I’ve often wondered what causes people to dismiss others’ experiences because those experiences don’t jibe with their own preconceptions. (Heck, I’m a straight white Christian man, and I’ve experienced it myself.) Is it a sort of arrested development – being locked into the know-it-all attitude of the teenager?

  5. Dom Camus says

    that’s different because the guys currently low on the totem pole can expect to eventually become the ones purloining everyone else’s ideas

    At the risk of drifting slightly offtopic here, this does not match with my experience. In many industries there is no realistic path of progression for rank and file workers to the upper levels of management. Managers in large firms have previous careers which consist mainly of managing smaller firms. Contacts and educational background get you your first post or two.

    I mention this not to somehow diminish the very serious problems described above, but rather to highlight that power structures which abuse employees are a problem in whatever form they appear. Hopefully recognising the common patterns will help us to identify and oppose bad practice more effectively.

  6. says

    Is it a sort of arrested development – being locked into the know-it-all attitude of the teenager?

    I think so. That’s essentially narcissism, and it’s a normal stage in juvenile development, during which you don’t really get that anyone other than you is real and considers themselves the star of their life the way you are the star in yours. Our culture encourages the people at the top of the social status ladder to maintain this view forever. Many don’t – many choose to grow up and consider others – but plenty don’t.

    I mention this not to somehow diminish the very serious problems described above, but rather to highlight that power structures which abuse employees are a problem in whatever form they appear.

    Good point. I was thinking strictly of film – where today’s white mailroom dude really might become tomorrow’s studio exec, but the path of progression is far less clear for women of all races and men of races other than white.

    But I absolutely agree with you that even if you might someday be The Purloiner Of Ideas, this does not justify the purloining system. That sort of internal competition is not only amoral – it’s a less effective way to run a business than is a team atmosphere in which the group benefits from its ideas instead of an atmosphere in which individuals have incentives to backstab each other when they could be putting their time and talent (if they have any) to better use.

  7. DragonLadyK says

    I’m not sure if this is a blinding irony or just incredibly sad, but this hideously racist/sexist behavior that is apparently typical of those in power is incredibly atypical of the normal, non-powerful people I spend my days and internet-surfing around. Even the most diehard WASP conservatives I know would be repulsed by the stories in that article — the same people that are supposedly the target demographic for the execs’ spreadsheets.

    These execs not only can’t relate to the minority viewpoint, they can’t even relate to the average American viewpoint.


  8. A Very Bad Girl says

    You know what’s really crazy? How white heterosexual males actually feel as if their “rights” are being violated, if they cannot openly engage in racist/sexist banter.

    I’m sure everyone knows what I’m talking about; all of those gripes about being “politically correct”. I see it all over the internet… mostly young white males who think these types of comments are some sort of rebellion against “teh evil feminazis”.

    This privileged demographic is actually blind and/or stupid enough to believe that women & other minorities are taking over, or have already taken over. I guess they’ve had one too many sips from the bigot Kool-Aid pitcher, huh?

  9. A Very Bad Girl says

    Oh, a little more I’d like to add to my previous post….

    Regarding the “free speech” whine of The Man: How pathetic must a person be, if they cannot have an enjoyable conversation without disparaging another human being’s race, gender or sexual orientation?

    This is, essentially, what white heterosexual males are saying; they cannot exchange thoughts & ideas in an intelligent fashion without dragging a minority through the mud, in the process. And if anybody has a problem with it, they just need to “get a sense of humor”.

    Oddly, when this demographic is under fire, they are the first ones to cry about it. Gee… looks like they can dish it out, but they certainly can’t take it.

  10. says

    DragonLadyK, yes. And the attitudes film people ascribed to the average viewer in my presence bore no resemblance to the attitudes of the actual viewer. I mean, for just one example, we mustn’t make mainstream movies with female leads because that will repulse young men, right? Except I grew up in an area where people had some really sick ideas about women, but that hadn’t stopped all the guys I knew from seeing all the Aliens movies many times each. Even the guys who claimed to believe women were just inherently silly and uncool and could never kick ass.

    It just doesn’t jive.

    AVBG, that’s a pretty amazing example of privilege, for sure. I’ve heard young white guys complain that people won’t let them tell jokes about rape, and they can’t understand this great unfairness since it’s not like they’re advocating rape or saying it’s okay. Well, you know, duh, (1) someone who’s been raped (female or otherwise) might be re-traumatized by hearing it and (2) actual abusers of women are often the type to interpret jokes like that as tacit approval of the behavior they assume goes on secretly in everyone else’s life just as it goes on secretly in theirs.

    BTW, I’ve yet to hear a rape joke that would have been funny even if you weren’t offended by the subject matter. All of these jokes structurally seem to rely on the idea that people being harmed is funny all by itself, which it’s just not.

  11. A Very Bad Girl says

    I’ve heard young white guys complain that people won’t let them tell jokes about rape, and they can’t understand this great unfairness since it’s not like they’re advocating rape or saying it’s okay.

    From what I can tell (according to the justifications I’ve read in various forums, newsgroups, etc.), guys like that think rape jokes are not a big deal because “women secretly fantasize about being raped”.

    Now, I can only speak for myself here, but yes, I’ve thought about it. HOWEVER… (A) Fantasy & reality are two entirely alternate universes. (B) Lots of people fantasize about things they would never actually engage in, in real life & (C) If a woman is having horny thoughts about getting “taken by force”, the perpetrator in said fantasy is usually somebody hot… NOT the bum down the street who smells like old cheese. And let’s face it, most rapists don’t look like *Fabio. LOL

    Anyhow, I’ve never personally been disturbed by rape jokes (despite the fact that I once came very close to being assaulted in that way). What I do find creepy, however, is the likelihood that some of those guys probably aren’t joking.

    *I don’t particularly care for Fabio, that was just random. 😀

  12. Anemone Cerridwen says

    There was one screenwriter talking about blacks on that page, and I thought that you could substitute Canadian for black and it would be just as true.

    I go to a script reading series in Vancouver and I’ve seen some sexist joking about female characters, though most people are more respectful. It isn’t any worse than the sexualized content of a lot of female roles (which would be blatant sexual harassment in most fields), but still. Overall, both joking and sexist scripts create a hostile work environment that prevents women from joining in more. When one panelist criticized the presence of a rape in a script, a lot of us thanked her fervently after.

    I don’t know what’s happening, but I see very few Asians at events, too, when they should be highly visible here. They have their own script reading series. I hope it helps.

    Disabled people are just plain invisible.

  13. Cyndi says

    A word that really triggers my annoyance is “emasculating.” It’s always used by some man who has his panties in a wad because a woman isn’t deferring to him.

    The word itself is sexist. What is “emasculating,” after all? — un-masculinizing. Meaning, “not respecting their maleness. Meaning, taking away the privileges/ respect/ deference they think they are entitled to simply because they are male.


    • Casey says

      Blargh, you’re right. And there isn’t even a corresponding word for women. I can only think of that’s remotely close to being the same is “infantalizing”. Men are “emasculated” and rendered non-men and women are “infantalized” and rendered helpless infants? …BOOOO!

      • says

        Even worse: to “emasculate” means to remove the penis and testicles. I always resent how not deferring to men properly or daring to have your own opinions is equated with a violent mutilation. Really, guys? It’s THAT BAD?
        It’s like when guys use “rape” to refer to someone, say, beating them in a video game. No, it is NOT ‘rape’, and you were NOT ’emasculated’. Get a grip.

        • Casey says

          Ugh, me and The Other Patrick kinda had a bit of a row with a guy on DA over his misuse/overuse of the word rape, he just kept saying that the world is too touchy-feely and we two have “political correctness” shoved too far up our asses and words don’t mean anything and it’s his channel so he should be allowed to say and do whatever he pleases, no matter how irresponsible… 😐

          • says

            I wonder: if we started casually tossing the phrase “murdering [person’s screen name] and his entire family” around as much as these guys use “rape”, if they would, you know, get it? I doubt it. And if they did, they’re probably just smart enough to realize they’d better go, “Ha ha that is hilarious!” or look like complete asses.

          • says

            @Jennifer, people do already say “murder” like that. “I totally murdered you, dude!”

            But murder is not gender or race specific. Murder can and has happened to everyone. It’s universal. But just try to get away with saying something like “I totally lynched you, dude!” and see how far you get before someone calls you an asshole (and rightfully so).

            IMO, saying “raped” is as offensive as saying “lynched”. Both are weapons of oppression against a clear and defined type of human the ones in power consider “inferior”. The fact that some lynchings and rapes have happened to white men is immaterial. It is/was still overwhelmingly used against women and people of color.

            • says

              But murder is not gender or race specific.

              And that’s why I was saying making it ABOUT the particular person who’s saying “rape” willy nilly might almost get through to them, though I seriously doubt it. “Lynched” is a good parallel. The problem is you simply cannot levy a term against *white men* that carries that sort of power.

          • The Other Patrick says

            I used “molest” as an example of a word that people wouldn’t use.

            Otherwise, as is typical the guy put his blinders on.

        • Casey says

          Also, the guy who’s all like “words don’t mean anything” has also been houseless off and on his whole life, and when I called him out on his callousness/lack of empathy he said something along the lines of “REAL LIFE HAS BEATEN ALL THE EMPATHY OUT OF ME, MAYBE WHEN YOU GET REAL PROBLEMS, YOU’LL UNDERSTAND, MAAAAAAAAAN!!”

      • SunlessNick says

        I always get narked off when I hear “emasculate” used for when a generally/formerly evil male character starts getting jots of conscience. Because either doing that, the speakers are either coding psychopathy as innately male – or if they’re using emasculated in the sense of balls=strength (thereby also coding strength as innately male), in which case they’re coding psychopathy as strength. Hell with any of those noises.

        • says

          Wow, and they call feminists misandrists!

          It does not take “strength” to be a psychopath. These people have no real understanding of sociopathy. They are likely teenage boys who think being a ruthless sociopath bad guy is “awesome”.

          • says

            Hey, some jackass has published books on how autism is just “maleness to the extreme.” Why not psychopathy, too?

            One of my biggest pet peeves in the world is when people describe a sociopath/psychopath as “strong”. What they really mean is that s/he is effective and brutish, but that’s not what “strong” means in a discussion of a person’s character. Strength is about standing up for what’s right, defending against aggression, adhering to morals when it would be convenient to dump them. Maybe if we’re so confused as a society about what “strength” is, that would explain why people of such poor character run the world, and few people seem to get that that’s a bad idea?

            (Apologies to those who consider discussion of “strong” and “weak” character ablist – I’ve yet to find a good replacement for these in this context.)

            • says

              Simon Baron-Cohen. This article shows his theory propagating nicely amongst people who wonder why autism is more “common” among boys than girls.

              Of course they don’t acknowledge the leading competing arguments because those are psychological, and people like to assume the answer is within their own field. It’s very possible girls are under-diagnosed for autism, just as boys/men are under-diagnosed for depression. It’s also possible that the way girls are usually socialized to emphasize empathy, and fake it if they’re not feeling it, and always think of others and anticipate the needs of others and never think of themselves – all that, starting in infancy, might minimize the effects of autism in girls. Meanwhile boys are usually taught to think of themselves first and compete, which feeds right into autism’s tendencies.

              But even if it’s true that boys are more often autistic, and there’s a biological reason for it, this jackass has completely missed the point that autism would be an extreme of male social conditioning, not biological maleness. You can’t infer that “how most men are” reflects a biological condition of maleness. Socialization is so obviously present and influential in developing every animal. I don’t know how evo-psych and evo-bio people manage not to understand this, unless they’re just incredibly narrow-minded.

  14. Jess says

    This is a very late comment but I’ve been doing some reading on the subject today and I’m finding very few recent articles to engage in a discussion in.

    I want to point out the role of women in film from the perspective of someone just starting out. So many articles focus soley on the amount of directors, writers, and DPs, but few seem to illustrate what it is like to go through film school and work those first few jobs.

    I’ve been finding it difficult to network in this industry, despite the fact that I’ve always been able to hang with the boys. In my previous work as a band photographer and promoter I had no problem being respected and treated as a friend by the men around me. I was never considered a groupie or expected to perform sexual favors for anyone. Sure, I dated a guy here and there, but it wasn’t something that I needed to do in order to further my status.

    Now, starting as a PA, there are tons of issues I’m facing, being looked at as a woman and not as a collegue. I find that where succeeding in this industry is based largely on word of mouth, men tend to pass on the names of other men and not women. In fact, the only person who has passed on my name has been another woman, despite the hard work and helpfulness I brought to the table in my previous gigs.

    I also fear that the fact that I have a boyfriend is putting me out of the race as well. Men seem really eager to pass my name along until they realize that I have a boyfriend and I’m not going to sleep with them. I can usually tell when a man is talking to me because he thinks I’m cool vs. when he wants to sleep with me, and many of the latter are the ones promising me jobs and then flaking when they find out I have a boyfriend. I almsot feel as if I need to blurt it out for all to hear before I even get to know these guys so that they don’t hate me for “leading them on,” aka talking to them. I’m normally one of the only women on the sets, and sets can feel very isolated, so where I don’t blame men for being attracted to me, I do blame them for using my lack of interest in them sexually as a reason not to help me out in the future.

    The last thing I want to comment on is the roles that I get as a female PA. It seems to be pretty common knowledge that women are expected to take certain roles, producing, art/makeup/set design, casting, craft services, and not the really technical stuff like camera work or lighting. The whole point of becoming a PA is to get that hands on, on set experience. To assist the people doing the technical stuff so that you learn by doing and hear the jargon. Most of my jobs have involved fetching lunch, shopping for props, finding extras, sorting paperwork. All the stereotypically female jobs. Meanwhile the male PAs get to fill in for the boom ops, help the camera crew or the grips and gaffers. Whether or not they mean to, they’re leaving the women out of the loop.

    Anyone who denies sexism in this industry has obviously never tried to work in it. It’s no wonder so few women make it up to the ranks of directors and dps, we can barely get in on the bottom level of production.

    • says

      WORD. I’ve heard similar stories from others, and people just don’t get it. Take all the sexism you’ve dealt with as a waitress, as a receptionist, as a whatever in any other industry at all, multiply it by 10, and you have the average day of a woman daring to attempt to work on a film set. And the men are as backward as Captain Kirk, without a clue what constitutes sexual harassment or assault, because there have been too few major lawsuits to cut into their profits.

      It’s like stepping back into the 50s.

  15. Casey says

    This has to do with the little convo thread about DA and privilege, etc. There’s a stamp in the “most popular in the last 8 hours section” called “Just Being” that says “Being white/black/male/female/asian/african/arabic/mexican/gay/straight/et. all Does NOT Entitle You to SPECIAL Treatment”, this is all well and good, but how many people on there do you think conflate “SPECIAL TREATMENT” with basic human dignity? Fer fuck’s sake…

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