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Hollywood turns back the clock on Hub

Blacks, Latinos, Asians largely absent in Boston-themed Hollywood hits

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1990 and has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Hollywood turns back the clock on Hub

Boston is yet again on the silver screen with the films Black Mass and Spotlight the latest in a string of Hollywood hits depicting life in Boston.

Yet black, Latino and Asian Bostonians may see little semblance between the city they call home and the Hollywood version of Boston. The bumper crop of Boston-themed big budget blockbusters coming out of Hollywood have few if any people of color, and none in lead roles.

Films that depict Boston, like Black Mass and Spotlight portray worlds with relatively few people of color: South Boston during the reign of Whitey Bulger and the Boston Globe’s newsroom. With film after film depicting the gritty, white working class Boston of the ‘70s and ‘80s, one wonders whether Hollywood executives think the movie-going public isn’t ready for the people of color plurality of contemporary Boston.

Like it or not, there is a segment of the American viewing public that is clearly not ready to see blacks onscreen. After NBC aired its production of The Wiz, the ‘70s Broadway musical with an all-black cast, some tweeted that the show was racist because it didn’t include whites in its cast.

Why are some whites unhappy seeing blacks in starring roles? One possible reason could be that many in America have nostalgia for the pre-civil rights days of the 1950s. In a poll released last month by the Public Religion Research Institute, 53 percent of respondents agreed that the American culture and way of life “have changed for the worse since the 1950s.” Think of what Hollywood looked like then – black and white films where blacks didn’t appear, unless they were holding a broom or serving tray.

Maybe it’s easier to shop around screenplays where black characters are marginalized when Hollywood executives are still hesitant to cast blacks, Latinos and Asians in leading roles, as the leaked Sony Pictures emails taught us.

Apparently, Hollywood doesn’t want blacks in films depicting African antiquity, like “Gods of Egypt,” a yet-to-be released film where the title characters are so lacking in melanin viewers may mistake them for Viking gods on vacation from Valhalla.

If Hollywood can’t get the pigmentation right in the Motherland, don’t expect to see diversity in Boston on the silver screen any time soon.

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