African American Stereotyping in Modern Hollywood

Gary Gray’s film Friday (1995) details 16 hours of the lives of two unemployed, African American men named Craig and Smokey from South Central, California. Smokey is conveyed as a pothead who sells marijuana for his psychopathic supplier Big Worm. Instead of selling the marijuana like he is supposed to, Smokey smokes it and ends up owing Big Worm $200 by 10 p.m. If he doesn’t pay, Big Worm plans to kill Smokey and Craig. While trying to decide what to do since neither of them have the money to pay Big Worm back, they observe the comings and goings of Craig’s neighbors.

This film portrays what it is like to live in the ghetto of South Central. In Nancy Wang Yuen’s “Playing ‘Ghetto’ Black Actors, Stereotypes, and Authenticity”, she discusses how black male actors are cast as unpredictable crack heads and gangbangers who live in poverty. Yuen also added, “Professionally, black actors were typecast into ‘ghetto’ roles set in South Central. Such roles were characterized by alternative speech patterns and slang associated with ‘Ebonics’ (a stereotyped form of speech attributed to ‘ghetto’ blacks), poverty, hyper sexuality, and bouts of unpredictable violence and anger” (pg. 233). The film shows all of these stereotypes, and more. Ezel is the crack head in the movie who will do just about anything to get money to buy his drugs. Additionally, Craig and Smokey play the drug users and dealers.

Black female actresses have similar stereotypes as well and are “Epitomized by the ‘no- nonsense black woman’ role with her pseudo-masculine, overbearing attitude or the silly dimwitted but eternally reliable ‘mammy’ role” (Yuen pg. 234). Joi, Craig’s over jealous girlfriend, plays her role as a pseudo-masculine, overbearing woman with attitude. Craig is almost afraid of her and what she might do if he ever left her. Later on in the movie, they show some burglary, violence, and gun shooting.

These roles give people the idea that this is how all African Americans in South Central act. In reality, not all African Americans act, dress, or speak the way they do in the movies. Movies portray limited versions of African Americans and are one of the key causes of stereotypes. When we see multiple movies with the same stereotypes, we start to believe that they must be true if they act, dress, and speak like that in multiple films. The Writers Guild of America is responsible and should work towards changing the way African Americans are perceived. According to Yuen, “In 2005 blacks accounted for only 4.4 percent of all employed Writers Guild of America (WGA) writers, while whites made up 91.8 percent of the total (pg. 234).”

Because of the limited number of people of color that are hired to write and direct movies and television in Hollywood, we will always see stereotypes. People of different race and ethnicity should have a chance to correctly write and direct so the audience can understand what it is really like to be from that race or ethnicity.

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