Hollywood’s Race Problem: On Ashton Kutcher And “The Dictator”

On the popchips commercial in which Ashton Kutcher donned brown-face to impersonate a ‘generic Indian man’: ’If you have any passing familiarity with Kutcher’s oeuvre, it might be easy to understand the stunning lack of taste on his part — but one might question, as many did, the judgement of the people at PopChips who conceived and wrote the ad, who casted Kutcher and put him in make-up and costume, who shot the ad and then approved it for broadcast. Did no one, in the many, many levels of the bureaucratic process that gets ads made and aired, stop and say, “Hey, maybe brownface is not so much a good idea, but a really, reallyoffensive one?”

On Sacha Baron Cohen’s ‘Dictator’ routine: Despite the very thin veneer of political satire, Cohen’s performance is a collection of generic, ill-conceived cliches borne of post-9/11 fear-mongering that ventures only to say, “Arab men are hairy and violent and they hate women and Jews.” His depiction is couched in nothing more than a dubiously funny accent and eccentric costume. Ultimately, it’s a White guy putting on brownface to make fun of Arabs. And if you don’t see something instinctively discomfitting in that, I’m not sure anything I say will change your mind.

In the context of contemporary politics, it’s easy to see why such a bigoted portrayal of a racialized group of people has become so commonplace and normalized in our entertainment and media industries. After all, Arabs — and brown people around the world — are being murdered every day, often by American drones, American policemen, and Israeli gunfire sponsored by American taxes. This reality would be a lot more difficult to contend with had we — Western media and its consumers — not constructed Arabs and people of color as inherently violent, one-dimensional barbarians already killing themselves. Americans sleep better at night thinking their tanks and missiles and soldiers only kill people like “The Dictator” and not like the children they send safely off to school every day. They feel better about themselves thinking “black-on-black” crime is a fundamental inevitability, a social fact, and not a symptom of structural racism.

When you look at the landscape American media, people of color — and especially Arabs — are not just underrepresented, they’re misrepresented. People of color are consistently cast in roles that are either violent or oppressive. When they’re not being killed by white people, they’re being “saved” by them. When they are not being overtly religious, it’s because they’re “moderate” and “one of the good guys”. When they’re not cab drivers or liquor store owners, they’re terrorists or criminals. ’

click through for the full article; it’s a bit long, but a good read. 

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