Woody Allen disagrees with assumptions that he’s racist because he doesn’t tend to cast black actors in his films.
Back in April, there were rumors that Woody was being a little prejudicial in casting for Bullets Over Broadway, his play about Harlem’s Cotton Club. A source close to production made claims in the New York Daily News that the writer/director wanted “no black gangsters” in the production.
It’s not that Woody refuses to hire black actors, but he told the New York Observer in a recent interview that he’ll only do so under the right conditions. “Not unless I write a story that requires it. You don’t hire people based on race. You hire people based on who is correct for the part,” he said. “The implication is that I’m deliberately not hiring black actors, which is stupid.”
He added, “I cast only what’s right for the part. Race, friendship means nothing to me except who is right for the part.”
Taking the some-of-my-acquaintances-are-black route, Woody pointed out that he gets along fairly well. “[Chris Rock] loved my work. When I got married to Soon-Yi he bought me a wedding present,” he said. “I’m friendly with Spike Lee. We don’t socialize, but I don’t socialize with anyone. I don’t have white friends either.”
Nevermind that Spike, not surprisingly, has blasted him for his casting decisions in the past.
This leaves me to wonder: Does this mean that Woody is only writing movies with white people in mind? Does he simply not believe that black actors could have filled roles on his highly regarded movies?
I personally haven’t seen any of his movies (he creeps me out, so I choose not to support his work), but from promos and cast listings on IMDB.com, his films are decidedly monochromatic.
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Out of his films from the last 10 years, there have been almost no black actors featured in prominent roles. Not even in his movie You Will Meet A Tall, Dark Stranger was there anyone darker than a paper bag cast in a big enough role to get highlighted credit in the film. Chiwetel Ejifor is the only one with a significant part, and that was back in 2004 with Woody’s Melinda and Melinda.
Other than that, you would have to go back to his 2009 film Whatever Works before you find that he hired an actress named Yolanda Ross to play a bit part. She didn’t even get a name because she was only listed as “Boy’s mom”! Before her, Woody cast Robyn Kerr in his 2006 film, Scoop, and she was only listed as “Tinsley Fan #1.”
I’m sure these were huge deals to the actresses–and it’s good for them to be able to work with surge a huge director–but it is odd that he typically tends to feature nearly all-white casts. But could these accusations of racism be a dangerous argument to make? Certainly, it’s at least a double-edged sword!
Over the last couple of years there has been a surge in popularity for films featuring predominantly black casts like Best Man Holiday and Think Like A Man Too. These are great, entertaining films in and of themselves, but they are categorized as Black Film based solely on the casting. In a society where white is the default, this label makes sense, but its still a little irksome.
Conversely, Tyler Perry‘s movies were mostly black, if not all-black at the beginning of his film career because he was leveraging the success of his Madea plays to bring his fans to theaters. He’s become more diverse in his casting choices for TV and Film, and it didn’t take him long to do that.
The difference between him and Woody, though, is that the process for Tyler’s casting was born of a necessity for inclusion. Meanwhile Woody has benefited from White Privilege because he hasn’t had to think about diversity in his 59-year-film career until it became a big deal.