Straight Outta Compton and Minorities in Lead Roles

If you have been watching my Twitter or Facebook feed you know I can’t stop talking about how awesome Straight Outta Compton was. The film wasn’t perfect by any means, it dragged slightly at points and was also brought down by O’Shea Jackson Jr, who may resemble his father well but was one of the stiffest actors in the film. With that said, Jason Mitchell (Eazy-E) and Corey Hawkings (Dr. Dre) and Paul Giamatti (Jerry Heller) anchor the film.

I was considering doing a review and I may do one on YouTube but this piece won’t be a review. I simply want to comment on how well the film is doing, especially in a time where studios and audiences continue to justify whitewashing and disproportionate casting of whites in Hollywood films. Paul Giamatti may be a great actor, but I do not believe he is considered a highly marketable actor. This biopic became the highest August opening for an R-Rated film due to the popularity of the figures it portrayed and a great marketing campaign. Despite the popularity of the real-life figures it would not surprise me if there were people who believed the film would flop financially due to its mostly black cast: Even though the film has relatively small budget of less than $30 million. Straight Outta Compton also had the fortune of being funded partially by figures such as Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, which probably helped to assuage studio worries of financial loss.

What I am hoping is that the success of Straight Outta Compton goes far beyond biopics. I hope studios can realize that the set in stone rule of black (and minority actors as a whole) not being marketable is a myth and a self-fulfilling prophecy. How are new minority actors supposed to become marketable if they are not given the appropriate chances to prove themselves? With 1 in 10 roles going to minorities in 2015, it is obvious that Hollywood’s practices of whitewashing and restricting casting calls to white actors severely impacts minority representation in films. Stars such as Will Smith and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson were fortunate to have established careers that made them marketable prior to their first film. Will Smith had The Fresh Prince, while The Rock had the WWE. Although these careers did not mean that both actors were taken seriously as actors it did mean that studios didn’t view them as risky investments.

Hollywood’s casting practices have demonstrated that white actors generally do not need to worry about this stigma as much. Studios will cast untested leads like Armie Hammer and Kellan Lutz in huge budget films, while hesitating to cast minority actors in roles for less expensive films. As I have discussed in my piece on double standards, people will often defend whitewashing in large numbers, using excuses such as “it’s just a movie”, “best actor for the part” and “artistic interpretation”. When a white character is turned black/Hispanic/Asian, suddenly those same excuses are not valid. I want to see studios take more calculated risks with black actors, pointing to the success of Straight Outta Compton, instead of emphasizing the failure of Red Tails.

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