Dare to Ask: Are love scenes a rarity for minorities?
By Phillip Milano
Why don't you see minorities in love scenes in movies and on TV? Is it too
M.B., male, Pittsburgh
What have you been watching? On "NYPD Blue," Jimmy Smits continued that
show's long, proud tradition of male [posterior] shots just prior to a love
scene, and on his 2007 show "Cane" he was not exactly chaste. Last I checked,
Will Smith has gotten a fair amount of action in several of his films, and so
has Denzel Washington.
A., 40, white female, Kansas City, Mo.
I get what M.B. is saying. Love scenes are not the problem. Lack of black
characters in caring, loving, respectful male/female relationships is. Luckily,
there have been a few movies out recently featuring black people in good
relationships. And I don't know how many Denzel Washington movies you've seen,
but he has not gotten plenty of "action" as you call it. For example: "Training
Day" (no explicit scenes), "Remember the Titans" (no action), "The Bone
Collector" (no action), "Hurricane" (no action), "Courage Under Fire" (no
action), "Devil in a Blue Dress" (one "action" scene), "Crimson Tide" (no
action) and "The Pelican Brief" (no action).
Rhonda, 46, black female, New York
Well, Denzel did heat up the screen later by setting someone on fire in
"American Gangster." Does that count? We didn't review his entire filmography,
but we do plan to rent "Devil in a Blue Dress" (because it's got an 89 percent
"Fresh" rating at RottenTomatoes.com, weisenheimers.)
One person who does look at portrayals of minorities in media is Darnell
Hunt, professor of sociology at UCLA and author of "Channeling Blackness:
Studies on Television and Race in America."
"It's a matter of stereotypes and who tends to control the industry," he
said. "White males who aren't terribly in touch with other cultures."
For example, in his book "The Black Image in the White Mind: Media and Race
in America," Robert Entman discussed how filmmakers might not want to put up
images that make a mainstream audience squirm, as it might affect audience size
or movie revenues.
They might not cast enough minorities to begin with. Entman reported that in
one film year, nearly 80 percent of the main actors in the top-grossing films
were white, 17 percent black and the rest Asian or "Other."
"As Entman suggests, if you don't have enough images of other groups, you'll
have a hard time depicting the full range of different types of people in love
scenes," Hunt said. "And you may see black characters sexualized not in romantic
ways, but with crude and brute sexuality."
Some studies suggest showing minorities being "sexy," i.e. as objects, is
more palatable to white audiences than showing them as romantic (being
intimate), i.e. as "human beings." That keeps the viewer at a comfortable
Ultimately, in TV and film, Hunt said, "People of color are still on the
outside looking in. Writers, producers, directors ... they're woefully
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