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John Singleton considers himself both an artist and a businessman. He wants to make movies that have an effect on the audience. He wants to create pictures he can be proud of, but at the same time, he understands the motion picture industry is a business. Movies need to make money in order to generate profit and later beget more opportunities to make movies. That cycle often leads studios to desperately push minority and fringe films to be as broad as possible and sometimes even to push minority filmmakers out. Not surprisingly, Singleton has a huge problem with that, especially because, according to him, it doesn’t need to be that way, at least if executives he sees as "so-called liberals" and spineless yes men would use common sense.
Speaking as part of an interview for American Masters, Singleton mentioned both Woody Allen’s early movies (likely Annie Hall and Manhattan) and the Francis Ford Coppola-directed Godfather as examples of how filmmakers can choose subject matter that depicts a hyper-specific segment of society (upper east side Jews/ the mafia) and do it in such a way that’s authentic and honest while still appealing to the mainstream. Not everyone was meant to get every single joke or reference or moment in each of those movies, but with a careful eye, they still became loveable and broad enough for the average person to get, just like Singleton’s own Boyz In The Hood.
Unfortunately, in the Oscar nominee’s opinion, those types of films aren’t really getting the greenlight anymore. Or worse, they’re being handed to white directors who don’t bring aboard a creative team consisting of African-Americans. Singleton has written on this topic extensively before, but basically, he believes it’s okay for some white filmmakers to take on black projects, but he doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that the great ones like Ray, 42, The Color Purple and In The Heat Of the Night all offered African-Americans who played key, behind the scenes roles. That used to be the standard, but Singleton sees that changing.
"The great ones (like Spielberg, Hackford, etc) had black people behind the scenes who they let give opinions. They didn’t say, ‘I’m gonna tell this story and then give no one black a job.’ That’s the difference. Now, there are a lot of (African-American) films that are being produced in a bubble (without African-Americans). They’re not holding to the American multi-cultural tenant. I’m not saying you can’t (make a movie) about a different culture. I’m saying if you’re going to do it, bring in people who can help you tell the story in the right way."
Thanks to a few choice quotes, this interview is making the rounds a bit as some kind of vicious rant, but on the whole, it’s a thoughtful and engaging discussion more than anything else. Singleton seems to believe, in short, that the general attitudes of racial acceptance and the economics of trying to make broad films have conspired to create an atmosphere in which it’s difficult for young black filmmakers to tell authentic stories or for stories with black subject matters to always get the types of voices required to create true art.
I think I speak for everyone when I say it would be wonderful to see more of a minority voice in Hollywood, especially when it comes to directors. As for John Singleton, you can check out his take on Tupac’s story in the near future.