In this post I will be discussing Whiteness in relation to a chapter in Richard Dyer’s book White: Essays on Race and Culture “The Matter of Whiteness”. I will be talking about Dyer’s opinions and applying them to the recent controversies regarding the Academy Awards’ lack of diversity from 2015 onwards.
The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite started trending a few days after the nominations of the 2015 Oscars were announced. Many people were astounded that, even though Selma (A.DuVernay. 2014) a film about Martin Luther King was eligible for a nomination, not a single actor, actress or directors of colour were nominated. The Oscars have not had a completely white nomination list since 1995, which celebrated the films on 1997.
Dyer talks about how white people have been normalised in history and how they never have to be specified in certain situations. They are never ‘othered’. For example, Dyer states how in films that have token people of colour, they are described as “Skinhead Johnny and his Asian lover Omar set up a laundrette” or “Feature film from a promising Native-American director”. (Dyer,1996: 2). But you never hear anything being described as “Teacher Janet and her white friend Keith build a bowling alley”.
Unless it is a Bollywood film with a majority of an Indian cast featuring a single white actor, who is vital to the story.
“The story of six young Indians who assist an English Woman to film a documentary on the extremist freedom fighters from their past, and the events that lead them to relive the long forgotten saga of freedom” – the synopsis of a Bollywood film, Rang De Basanti (R. Omprakash Mehra 2006) from IMDB. The fact that it’s a Bollywood film but they had to stress that the story was about Indians was unnecessary.
Dyer argues how “whites are people whereas other colours are something else” PAGE 10. Relating to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, people of colour, especially but not only black people, felt alienated in the academy, and felt they were not being appreciated. Especially when Selma being eligible for a nomination, a film about one of the most important black Americans in all of history, did not get nominations for best actor or even best director.
Here is an infographic from http://www.indiewire.com/2014/02/the-diversity-gap-in-the-academy-awards-in-infographic-form-29628/ that shows the diversity in the Academy Awards. 2014.
Dyer explains how an old school white comedian will start off a joke by saying “There’s this bloke walking down the street and he meets this black geezer”. He does not specify the race of the “bloke”; we just assume they’re white (Dyer, 1996: 2). We assume everyone is white we hear about is white until stated otherwise. It’s been argued that people align themselves with people of their own races, but if they are told to imagine a person, there is a very high possibility they are imagining a white man. As an Asian girl, whenever I’m writing a script, screenplay, character traits or imagining a fictional person, 100% of the time, I am unconsciously picturing or writing about a white person.
In a book I am currently reading The Good Immigrant, a book with chapters written by a number of different British ethnic minorities, mostly actors and journalists, about how they feel about their experiences living in a multi-cultural Britain, there is a chapter written by Darren Chetty entitled “You Can’t Say That! Stories have To Be About White People”. Chetty is a Year Two teacher who encourages his students including many multicultural kids, to write about more than just white people, and he succeeds in doing so. When I read about 6 year old children being encouraged to not write about just white people, but to enforce their culture into their work, it reminded me of how Dyer is trying to make ‘whiteness’ a race as it is constantly enforced everywhere, it is also somehow invisible at the same time.
Dyer, R. (1996) White: Essays on Race and Culture. Routledge. London.
Shukla, N. (2016) The Good Immigrant. Cornerstone. London.
Selma. (2014). Directed by A. DuVernay. [Film] USA and UK: Paramount Pictures
Rang De Basanti (2006) Directed by R. Omprakash Mehra. [Film] India: UTV Motion Pictures