Robocop 2

“I am the other guy, the other one” proclaimed Samuel L. Jackson during a RoboCop promotional interview with KTLA entertainment reporter Sam Rubin.

The line was part of a comical scolding that Jackson was giving Rubin after the reporter mistook him for Laurence Fishburne. Now it is entirely possible that Rubin simply had a Freudian slip. However, considering the number of researchers news stations employ, I find that excuse a little tough to chew on.

Fortunately, Jackson decided to make light of the flub rather than storm off or respond bitterly to the rest of Rubin’s questions. We all saw how the internet jumped on Steve McQueen, calling him a jerk amongst other names, when the director responded coldly to asinine questions from reporters asking him to compare 12 Years a Slave to Django Unchained. As we know, there is nothing directors enjoy more, while promoting their films, then talking about somebody else’s work…especially when it is significantly different than their own. Do you think Martin Scorsese wants to hear countless questions asking him to ”talk about Ben Younger’s Boiler Room in relation to The Wolf of Wall Street?”

While remaining somewhat professional in the painfully awkward interview, Jackson’s pointed jabs spoke volumes. Like a speedy boxer he managed to expose and deconstruct his sheepish opponent before Rubin even realizes that the knockout punch has been delivered. Referencing his Robocop co-stars Michael Keaton and Gary Oldman, Jackson slyly asks Rubin “You do know who they all are right? Just in case you have some of them on the show…do some research to make sure you do not confuse them with those other white actors”

Robocop 1

After all, white actors look-alike right?

What bothered me the most about the cringe worthy incident was that this is not the first time in recent years a newscast has made this type of embarrassing blunder. Just last year, one news station put up an image of the musician Seal while reporting on the death of actor Michael Clarke Duncan. The ways in which those two men are different could fill the lengthy running time of The Green Mile.

The sad part is these mishaps come at a time when things were finally looking up for black actors in cinema. When I was growing up only a handful of black individuals had prominent roles in front and behind the camera. If a major studio film did not feature Morgan Freeman, Eddie Murphy, Whoopi Goldberg, Denzel Washington, or Will Smith in my teen years, then chances were good that I was not going see “anyone like me” on screen…at least not in a significant role. Though directors like Spike Lee, John Singleton and F. Gary Gray were doing their best to break this trend, they were still just small ripples in the vast ocean of films.

Obviously there were other black actors and directors working during that time, but in regards to the “household names” that even my mother, who is not a movie person but watches entertainment segments like the one Sam Rubin pedals, would know. These were the names that meant something. Over the years character actors like Samuel L. Jackson and Laurence Fishburne, and unsuspecting beauties like Halle Berry, to name a few, emerged as major Hollywood players. Chiseling through the unspoken barriers that kept many black actors typecasts as drug dealers/users, gangsters, slaves, the hot girlfriends and the bumbling sidekick.

fruitvale station

“I am the only black guy in RoboCop that is not a criminal”

Words said in jest by Jackson, but bound together by tightly woven scathing truth. Progress has been made with many individuals forging their way through the swamp of traditional studio stereotypes. Looking back at a strong 2013, and a rather promising start to 2014, black actors and directors in cinema are not only receiving critical praise (12 Years a Slave, Fruitvale Station), but also commercial success (The Butler, Ride Along) as well.

Of course there is still much more progress to be made on many fronts. Black directors, especially black females, are still struggling for mainstream equality within a studio system that believes the worldwide market only wants films featuring, and made by, predominantly white males. The fact that Tim Story’s films have grossed closed to a billion dollars combined and he is still not considered a bankable director within the studio system is just baffling. These all serve as reminders that blacks in film are still but a few snowflakes in the snow globe that is the Hollywood studio system.

The fact that Rubin and his staff could not even bother to do basic journalistic research, like say viewing the Super Bowl ad in questions again before citing it, is rather disheartening. Especially considering that, whether you like it or not, Jackson is one of the highest-grossing actors today. Again, I understand that mistakes happen, but this was a result of downright laziness on the part of Rubin and his team.

It is bad enough that I have endured various stretches of watching studio films without seeing my complexion reflected on screen, I do not need entertainment reporters reaffirming that they, and studios for that matter, cannot even bother to take the time to tell us apart from the other guy.

5 Comments

  1. Great commentary! As a white guy who wishes the world could be different, that we could all acknowledge our prejudices and then do out best to move past them, I completely agree.

    And mistaking Jackson for Fishburne is downright terrible. Almost as bad as George Stephanopoulos mistaking Bill Russell and Morgan Freeman at a Presidential Inauguration.

    1. I had forgotten about the Russell/Freeman incident, that is another good example. Though mistakes are bound to happen in the media, I just find it perplexing how easily these particular types of blunders occur. In an era where entertainment reporters are giving us detailed updates on the movements of the entire Pitt/Jolie clan, it seems rather silly that they cannot figure out something as simple as which actor did what?

  2. That was the most awkward and horrible interview ever, but Jackson handled it well, and in such a way that maybe Rubin (and his viewers) will learn from this mistake. But it happens too often. The representation of people of colour in the media is really bad in Australia too – pretty much all of our ads on TV show just white people, and maybe 95% of our films are about white people. It’s so frustrating that the media doesn’t represent the diversity that actually exists in real life. Agreed with James, great commentary here.

    1. I have no doubt that Rubin learned a lot from the embarrassing incident.

      Considering the high indigenous population in Australia, I would have assumed that the percentage on screen would be at least 70% white, 30% other by now. I guess that is why it is important to champion films like Mystery Road (which I highly recommend), both in Australia and worldwide. The more exposure films like that get, the higher the chance that it will open more doors culturally.

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