by G. Brown
Earlier on this site, we were rejoicing the announcement of a new all-Black Western from JayZ and starring Idris Elba. Even though shows and movies with all-Black casts have been around for decades, they are still welcomed as a novelty when pitted against the realization that an all White-cast wasn’t the exception but the rule.
Naomi Campbell won’t be there to cheer on all-Black cast movies and shows. As a matter of fact, she doesn’t even want a role in one.
The former Supermodel turned actress recently sat down to talk with The Guardian to talk about how she views all-Black shows against the current backdrop of Hollywood’s push to diversify. Campbell says “People of colour are in a very interesting position right now. We’re more than just in vogue. We are the culture.”
Just like being in the limelight can breed resentment in the fashion industry, it also happens in race relations. Campbell tells this story about a friend who seemed to think Blacks were getting opportunities unfairly saying, “…. someone I know recently called it a ‘cult’,” she says, visibly irate. “It wasn’t that way when you had everything, was it? You wouldn’t say that when you were getting everything handed on a plate, and things were coming your way constantly.” Campbell continued, “I’m the kind of person where, with my friends – and I take that word very seriously – I’m happy for what they get. So to hear this called a ‘cult’, that was like, ‘Wait a second: so you want me to feel bad now that things are turning the other way? ‘”(The Guardian)
Seeing any group of people finally being included in opportunities and not automatically ruled out because of their race or gender is not a new cause for Campbell. The English born beauty began gracing the runway when she was only 15 years old after the head of a model agency spotted her she was window shopping. By the time she turned 16, she was already featured on the cover of a major magazine.
Stardom came easy it seems for the model, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t feel the sting of racism. Some designers didn’t want to use her because of her chocolate skin. Even when she did land the contract, she didn’t always earn the same pay as white models strutting down the runway.
Campbell rose to become the first black International Model showcasing world-famous designers like Versace and Mizrahi. She was the first black model to appear on the cover of Vogue, crowned “the megamodel of them all” by the interview and along with Cindy Crawford, Claudia Shiffer “formed an elite group of models declared “supermodels. (Wikipedia.org)
Despite all this acclaim, Campbell still had to fight discrimination and used her agency in the industry to speak out against it once declaring, “This business is about selling, and blonde and blue-eyed girls are what sells.”
It’s because of the discrimination that she’s endured that Campbell says an all-Black cast is as much a part of the problem as an all-White cast. Campbell says, “I won’t do an all-black show, for instance, because it would be hypocritical given what I’ve stood for, for so long…Balanced inclusion.” Some might point out that Campbell is the one being hypocritical since she did take a role on the hit show “Empire”, but in her defense, Campbell did admit that she sees the issue from many levels.
Her argument is valid. Shows and movies that target one segment of the population are ruling out all others thus decreasing revenue, exposure and impact.
But some artists like Jordan Peele have learned how to make a Black-centric film like “Get Out”, but still appeal to audiences of all colors. Innovative storytelling like “The Boondocks” resonated with audiences no matter the viewer’s color.
But before genres can appeal to all, they first have to get an audience to recognize there’s more to reveal. An all-Black Western in Hollywood is exactly new –“Buck and the Preacher” 1972. But it is still an area that offers so many stories and a lot of history to be explored. Hollywood films, documentaries, shorts, sit-coms, and series can do what public education still fails to do– teach all Americans about that aspect of Black history.
The fashion industry is a microcosm of just about every industry in America. Whether you’re the first or the millionth Black to be hired, equally is still a struggle. Just like Campbell was a starting point in opening the doors to future Black models, all-Black cast shows are similar.
Campbell has to recognize that every platform isn’t on the same level in the journey to equality. Some areas have grown enough to have diversified casts…others are still knocking at the door to be recognized and accepted as normal.