If 'People' says it, I believe it

March 18, 1996|By MIKE LITTWIN

THERE IS another attack on Hollywood, but it may not be what you think.

It isn't about Hollywood violence this time. And it isn't about Hollywood sex.

Bob Dole isn't involved. Neither is Dan Quayle, Pat Buchanan, Bill Bennett or anyone else remotely Republican.

It's also not about how dumb many movies are, although they are. I saw "Up Close & Personal" the other night, a movie so mind-numbingly dumb that I feared, briefly, it would force people to go back to reading. (See "Fargo" as an antidote.)

No, this time the topic is Hollywood racism.

Which you wouldn't expect to be funny, unless you consider that leading the crusade is People magazine.

Honest.

Now, every so often, I read People. It's usually when I'm at the dentist's office, and fear is welling up in me like it's the creature from "Aliens" and I need something anything to deaden my senses. People is the equal of novocaine any day, and, as a bonus, there are no needles. On the other hand, you might run into a story about Regis and Kathie Lee.

And I confess, I also glance at it occasionally when I'm standing in line at the grocery store, but only if I see there's a story about Marcia Clark's new love interest or a hard-hitting feature on, say, Tony Franciosa.

As luck would have it, both of these stories are in the latest issue, in which the headline reads: HOLLYWOOD BLACKOUT. The cover story is about how African-Americans are basically, and maybe systematically, shut out in this year's Oscar race.

I'm not suggesting that People isn't onto something. It's just that if it's an issue that even People gets, it must be so obvious that everyone gets it. Let's just say that for investigative journalism, Woodward and Bernstein never worked there, although they have both been featured in the magazine's pages, once in a story headlined: How Do They Find Out All That Stuff?

Anyway, People conducted a four-month investigation in which it learned, pretty much exclusively, that of the 166 nominees (hey, it took some time to count up all those nominations) only one was African-American and that was in the prestigious live-action, short-film director category.

People says that although 12 percent of the American population is African-American (that really took some time to count) and 25 percent of the movie-viewing population is African-American, you'd never know it from the industry's hiring practices.

Only 2.3 percent of Directors Guild membership is black and 2.6 percent of the Writers Guild. Decorators and set designers are under 2 percent. And of those who vote in the Oscars, it's less than 4 percent.

When the Oscars are on TV next Monday and will be watched by every man, woman and child in the entire world, except a few in Tibet where they don't get cable, this blackout will be hardly visible.

Whoopi Goldberg will be the host, relacing David Letterman, who will be watching from either Uma's or Oprah's house. The producer of the show is Quincy Jones.

The thing about Goldberg and Jones is that they are both African-American. Don't look for many others once the awards begin, though.

This article has some people upset. Although not necessarily a People subscriber, Jesse Jackson is now also on the case, organizing an as yet undetermined protest. "It doesn't stand to reason that if you are forced to the back of the bus, you will go to the bus company's annual picnic and act like you're happy," Jackson was quoted as saying the other day.

Actually, the problem isn't that there are so few nominees, it's that there are so few possible nominees. The few big-time black actors don't seem to pave the way for a lot of medium-time black actors. The few big-time black directors get to make only so many films hiring black actors. The white males are still in charge.

There's something else funny about this, too.

The Republicans are right, you know: Hollywood is home to the liberal elite. This racism charge drives them nuts. Many of these people give money to many left-leaning, anything-but-racist organizations. And most of them also pay the help quite well.

They'll also wear virtually any ribbon you offer them. And just let them get started on the NEA cuts (One question: If these folks are so upset about the government cuts to the NEA, couldn't a dozen or so of these $10 million-a-movie guys make up the deficit out of their pocket change?)

I saw a reaction the other day from some Hollywood honcho defending the town's good liberal name, saying: Do you think Richard Attenborough is a racist? Do you think Johnny Depp is a racist?

This is, of course, the old "some of my best friends are white directors who aren't racist" defense.

People remains unconvinced. And that's good enough for me.

Pub Date: 3/18/96

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