Bob Ewell Has Cleaned Up Well Since His Spittin' Days

General | Jun 26, 2017 | Carlos Castillo

Racism isn’t Bob Ewell anymore.

Bob Ewell was the character in Hollywood’s version of “To Kill a Mockingbird” who spit in Atticus Finch’s face for defending a black man accused of raping a white woman in 1930s rural Alabama. Bob Ewell was racism personified back in the day.

Racism is a loaded word. Brings to mind Klan rallies, George Wallace (the segregationist governor, not the comedian) and characters such as Bob Ewell. However, when I assert that Hollywood is a racist industry, these images do not pop up in my mind.

I don’t believe that a cabal of racist studio heads secretly meets by candlelight in a Beverly Hills mansion to prevent me and other people of color from gaining a foothold in the film industry. That’s Racism: The Melodrama.

Let me give my definition of racism as it pertains to Hollywood: It’s the systemic exclusion of people, based on the color of their skin, to participate in a consistently meaningful fashion to develop, produce and distribute motion pictures. I’m talking executives, producers, directors and writers. Most actors are window-dressing when it comes to the Hollywood power structure.

By systemic I mean it’s a way of doing business that’s pervasive throughout the entire industry. Worse, racism self-perpetuates and that’s why it continues to be a problem in these so-called enlightened times.

Racism still firmly resides in the subconscious, the notorious Id that Freud delineated. It’s that program in the brain that runs concurrently with waking thoughts, sometimes even contradicting one’s best intentions.

Let me explain by way of an example. Mike is a white man. He’s hired as a development executive at Acme Studios in Hollywood. First day at work, he walks in and pretty much sees a reflection of himself—a sea of white folks, busy at their desks and in conference rooms.

Oh, sure, there’s Mabel, the African-American diversity head. And Sonya, that pretty African-American receptionist. Manuel, a Mexican-American, is the very friendly fellow who empties the trash and mops up spills in the break room.

Mike considers himself a good man without a racist bone in his body. He’s pretty much dated the rainbow and voted for Obama. Twice! However, seeing that sea of white upon entering the office didn’t bother him one iota. Just didn’t register.

Mike knows that he didn’t get the job because of any special favors or nepotism. Earned it fair and square. Put in a lot of hard work. Racism in Hollywood may exist, but it doesn’t pertain to him.

Ah, here is where the problem self-perpetuates. Subconsciously, Mike sees this office/industry essentially dominated by white people. And he believes that his capability, not the color of his skin, earned him the job. Ergo, if most of the other people running the show in Hollywood—especially at the very top—are white, too, then the subconscious message is clear: maybe white people are just better at doing this particular work.

That, my friends, is a racist belief, which self-perpetuates and has helped maintain the racist status quo in Hollywood.

Racism had a head start in America and it’s not going to come to a dead stop just because of legislation or well-intentioned rhetoric. It’s not Bob Ewell spitting a loogie in Gregory Peck’s face and using the N-word. At least back then, in the bad 'ol days of lynchings and Jim Crow, you could see the Bob Ewells coming. Now it’s still as insidious and destructive, albeit a faint buzz in the background of the mind.

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