WHY USING STEREOTYPES RUINS THE VIEWERS EXPERIENCE!
By Donna – Marie Dowe
I watched the movie ‘Fruitvale Station’ last night and could not help but bawl real tears. The film was beautifully and honestly portrayed by the lead protagonist Oscar Grant III (‘Michael B Jordan’; one to watch). The other main actors were also just as believable in their roles as Oscar’s mother and girlfriend; played by Octavia Spencer and Melonie Diaz respectively.
‘Fruitvale Station’ attempts to depict the true story of Oscar Grant III. The film commences with hand held shots of Oscar and his friends being brutally handled by the Fruitvale police. A gun shot rings out, and then the film flashes back to reveal the prior events which lead up to the shooting.
Oscar is portrayed as an average, working class, young Black man from the hood. Yes he does sell cannabis to survive, but that is where the usual stereotyping ends. From the start of the film to the finish, Oscar is characterised as a stand up, nicer-than-average guy. (This characterisation was slightly overwritten, but did not diminish the strength of the film).
As the film progressed I watched as the character continued to do one good turn after another. At first I assumed the writer was doing that old trick where you make your audience love your character so that when he does something bad, we know he is the good guy and so forgive him anyway. So there I sat waiting in anticipation for this young out of work Black man to do something awful. I watched and I waited; I waited and I watched. But this was not your stereotypically depicted Black, gang-banger . This was a young, loving father, desperate to get his old job back, wanting to provide for his woman and child.
On reflection I questioned why I was expecting this young Black man to do something seriously untoward. Was it to find another layer to this character? I don’t think so. Then the realisation hit me. After decades of seeing stereotyped Black characters on TV and in the cinema I had been programed to expect nothing less. The sad thing is, that by using stereotypical characters in TV and Cinema, the writers/producers/casting agents are providing a poorer viewing experience.
Just consider the lead character in ‘WEEDS’. A respectable upper middle class white lady, who is a school rep and a widowed mother, sells Cannabis to maintain her affluent lifestyle. Would this character be as interesting if she was a Black drug dealer from the hood? No, it wouldn’t. How many times have we seen that already?
I could ask the same question about ‘Orange Is The New Black’. The lead character, a white middle class female has to do a sentence in prison for a drug offence which she had committed ten years prior. The narrative is richer because the characters have not been seen before.
Finally, the well regarded ‘Breaking Bad’ – a white working class teacher with a terminal illness decides to manufacture and supply Crystal Meth.
These programs are so interesting because they are told from a fresh perspective. It is an insight into a world view we are rarely shown. These stories are also a truer reflection of our society, as we are all smart enough to know that drug dealers come in all colours, shapes and sizes. It’s about time we start to see some diverse stories and refreshing characters on the small and big screen!
Donna – Marie Dowe
Managing Director www.turnanewpage.com