Spike Lee and Clint Eastwood both attended the Cannes Film Festival this year. Eastwood was there to showcase his child-abduction drama Changeling and Lee was there basically to blast Eastwood regarding the total absence of Black soldiers in his last two World War II films about Iwo Jima. Lee also took the opportunity to promote his own WWII film about an all-Black division fighting in Italy. Lee’s film is called Miracle at St. Anna and will be released in the US this October. What interests me here is that I didn’t even notice the lack of Black faces and I’m usually sensitive to these issues in film.
Race is an unwieldy issue for a minority growing up in America. Race issues are both very real and very tangible while also being an all-encompassing situation, so huge that it’s impossible to explain it all to someone who isn’t experiencing it. In college, I tried to tackle race and how it applied to me for a paper, but didn’t find any real answers.
What I did discover is that whenever I read books and the main character hasn’t been described yet, I always default to White Male. I don’t think I’m alone in this behavior since almost everyone I know was surprised to find out that Johnny Rico turned out to be Filipino at the end of Starship Troopers, the book variety. Ironically, this role was played by Casper Van Dien in the movie version. On the other hand, maybe it’s not so ironic since I believe the director never actually read the book. Anyway, I digress. The point here is that somewhere along the line, it became acceptable to imagine White people first, unless otherwise directed, which is why, I think, the average American doesn’t mind if minorities are missing from the entertainment landscape. In all the successful years that the sitcom Friends was on, I don’t recall any Blacks or Asians on the show. Wasn’t it set in New York?
In an attempt to explain why I didn’t notice the lack of Black people in Eastwood’s films, I think it was because there was a Native American in the first film and a ton of Japanese in the second film. I believe subconsciously I operate with a two-race mentality: There’s White people and then there’s the rest of us.
That’s kind of sad.