Hollywood must hire more diverse actors from different countries | Donovan Watkis
An accomplished American Hollywood producer Joel Zwick told Jamaican filmmakers that they should only use English in their movies upon visiting the island some time ago.
He said, “If the world can’t understand what you are saying and you then have to use subtitles, which most people don’t like to read, then it becomes a foreign movie. He further stated that , Jamaicans should not be producing foreign-language films as an English-speaking country. There is no reason to tell your stories in anything other than English as the English-speaking world is vast.”
He further stated: “When we write in Patois, we are locking out a whole set of people who want to understand.”
I found those comments short-sighted and deeply colonial. The irony was lost on many that he was encouraging filmmakers to “think global” while reducing the prestigious art of filmmaking to the prejudices of non-reading English speakers. It is an ill-informed, and pretentious assumption that all Jamaican stories by Jamaican film makers may be told in the Queen’s language and keep their authenticity.
Filmmaking around the world happens in a range of economic, social, and cultural contexts. Like any other products for distribution, films are targeted for specific markets.
Self-respecting filmmakers whether they are based in Hollywood or the film propeller circuits with a penchant for creative diversity should not digest any narrative that tells them that their language is useless in telling their stories.
It is in a similar way that black American filmmakers were told in the past by Hollywood executives that ‘black films’, i.e., films with black actors as the lead characters would not make any money because nobody wanted to watch a film with black people. That argument was shattered when Tyler Perry broke box-office numbers with his cash cow characters like Madea and even further when Black Panther shattered records all over the world.
Hollywood directors who create imaginary ceilings for international actors and story tellers with a cultural uniquenesses such as “the Jamaican Patois language is not sellable” seem to forget their own history.
Some of the early filmmakers in Hollywood, the likes of Mayer, Cohen, Selznick, and Thalberg, headed west to form Hollywood at a time when the entertainment business was regarded as disreputable. They often went to extreme lengths in their quest for social respectability. The modern international actors and script writers require the same respect for their stories and language on the Hollywood screens.
Those who speak on behalf of the Hollywood status quo would be doing a disservice to the global film industry by not looking to International cultures in parts of Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean for creative fusion.
It is a shame that in 2017, a film could be judged as marketable or not based on the language when we are so interconnected and the technology is available to market and promote any film into the homes of those who are interested.
In the absence of diversity and where films and actors were proscribed from entering the real corridors of gentility and Hollywood’s English status, then movies told in the foreign languages offer an ingenious option. Within the film studios and on the screens, Jamaicans, for example can simply create a new industry, one where they would not only be admitted, but would also govern.
Additionally, to cast aside the Foreign language films for commercial appeasement is the first step towards dismissing the diverse cultures as irrelevant to the global markets.
Luke Cage recently did a series with “Jamaicans” who had difficultly translating the authentic Jamaican experience onscreen. There are some persons who would say getting the Jamaican accent right does not matter to the American audience. That may or may not be true but Netflix is a worldwide platform.
Why would the professional movie studios, producers, directors and “green lighters ignore the simple truth of naturalism as developed by Stanislavsky which requires naturalistic acting to replicate real life and show the realistic version of it.
A basic mission of movie making is to draw on the empathy of its audience and create worlds that could almost be our own on screen. There are fully capable Jamaican actors that could play the part of a Jamaican in any movie.
Representation matters and every sophisticated artist should know that.
Bill Duke in an interview in the breakfast club said he he would urge filmmakers to aspire to be less like Stephen Spielberg and more like Steve Jobs.
Being innovative and expressing ourselves in an authentic manner will assist us in breaking down imaginary walls. Start from your comfortable place of scriptwriting and develop the film industry outward. I cannot imagine myself teaching students at a film school or at a workshop “how to make films in a language other than their own?”
A better message would be to tell every practicing artiste in the film industry to focus their energies on developing their humanity through scripts and make the films using their cultural values.
- Donovan Watkis is an actor, film maker and author. He is a TV host and music marketer. Email email@example.com.