Race is still an is­sue in Hol­ly­wood, says Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

IN THIS week’s Meet Dave, Ed­die Mur­phy plays the tiny cap­tain of an alien ves­sel that has been con­structed in his im­age. While big, an­i­ma­tronic Ed­die prowls Man­hat­tan, his mi­nus­cule looka­like tries to main­tain or­der within the ro­bot’s hollow skull. In the course of the film, both Ed­dies ap­pear close to ro­mance, but only one will man­age to se­cure a cud­dle.

When Cap­tain Mur­phy casts an eye to­wards Gabriel Union, the African-Amer­i­can star of Bad Boys II, we sus­pect (rightly, as it tran­spires) that the two will end up hold­ing hands. When, how­ever, Space­ship Ed rubs up against El­iz­a­beth Banks, the white star of noth­ing very much, cyn­i­cal movie fans know that their juices will re­main un­min­gled.

It is more than 40 years since Syd­ney Poitier dared to plant a smacker on Katharine Houghton in Stan­ley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Com­ing to Din­ner, but Hol­ly­wood re­mains bizarrely cau­tious about al­low­ing peo­ple of dif­fer­ent races to pair off. The above ex­am­ple, of course, proves no such con­spir­acy, but trawl through this year’s re­leases and you will look in vain for a main­stream US film that al­lows a black per­son and a white per­son to love one an­other with­out the in­ter­ra­cial na­ture of the re­la­tion­ship in­flu­enc­ing the nar­ra­tive.

To get some sense of the lengths film-mak­ers will go to in their ef­forts to keep apace with race, think back – if you can bear it – to a dire 2001 film en­ti­tled Black Knight. This grim com­edy saw Martin Lawrence be­ing beamed to 14th-cen­tury Eng­land for a se­ries of char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally un­a­mus­ing prat­falls.

Here, surely, Hol­ly­wood would be forced to al­low an in­ter­ra­cial ro­mance? There were not, af­ter all, too many black peo­ple in the Eng­land of Ed­ward III. But, gad­zooks! Who comes hither? It is a “Moor­ish” princess played by Marsha Thoma­son, a Man­cu­nian ac­tor of Ja­maican de­scent. Bri­tish television rou­tinely de­picts ro­mances be­tween black and white char­ac­ters in its soap op­eras and thrillers, but some nervy con­di­tion still com­pels Amer­i­can film-mak­ers to ob­serve an an­tique se­ries of dicta defin­ing who is al­lowed to kiss whom.

Lest you imag­ine there is some neo-fas­cist con­spir­acy afoot to main­tain a cul­tur­ally pure Amer­ica, con­sider all those gay best friends who hang around the fe­male leads in con­tem­po­rary ro­man­tic come­dies. Come to think of it, there is a gay alien in Meet Dave. Main­stream film-mak­ers, it seems, are more com­fort­able de­pict­ing ro­mances be­tween folk of the same sex than those of dif­fer­ent race.

Direc­tors and ac­tors, when quizzed on this topic, guiltily whis­per that re­search sug­gests that cin­ema go­ers – both black and white – re­main un­easy about mixed-race ro­mances. Well, if things go to plan for the ju­nior sen­a­tor from Illi­nois, the prod­uct of just such an in­ter­ra­cial cou­pling may soon be saun­ter­ing into the White House. Then, per­haps, Hol­ly­wood may fi­nally al­low black alien ro­bots to find ro­mance with white ladies. It’s a lit­tle thing, but it mat­ters.

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