In 2009 when I first started the SJS DIRECT imprint the first book I published was All About Marilyn, a screenplay about of a faded 1990’s African-American teen star who was at a cross roads in her life at 34. And one of the reasons I had been inspired to write the story was all of the talk about the struggles Black actresses faced looking for work in Hollywood. I wanted to tell the story of these struggling sistas and get readers to understand what goes on behind the scenes in the entertainment industry regarding Black folks.
At the time I was doing research for All About Marilyn, many of the reports I watched and read said that the Black actress was at the bottom of the business hierarchy in the entertainment industry. She was considered the least bankable at the box office, unable to open a movie on a weekend or even carry a picture back to profitability for a studio. She was considered the highest risk in relation to cost because movies featuring Black female leads alone tend to do the worst not only in the American film market, but die on arrival in foreign box-offices as well. And screenwriters of all races just didn’t want to write scripts for her.
Why? Because it didn’t make any money for them. In Hollywood, the screenwriter is usually paid a percentage based on the budget of a film. And that percentage is two to five percent of a production’s budget. And five percent of 200 million dollars of a superhero movie like The Avengers with White male leads is a lot more money to take home than writing a Civil Rights drama, a Christian movie or a romantic comedy for a Black female lead that will only get an $5-$8 million budget at best if it’s even greenlit.
Due to financial reasons the there’s not much incentive for a screenwriter like myself to write a script for a Black actress. This is why many Black actresses are limited to playing the same roles such as maids, single mothers, and girlfriends in the same types of movies over and over again and in Tyler Perry films, Lee Daniels films, and Shondra Rhimes TV shows.
On the flip side if even if these kinds of scripts are written, and even if a Black starlet is interested in playing the role, it’s next to impossible to get financing for them. Most studio heads at the Big Six aren’t going to greenlight the $20 to $40 million budget to pay for an original script with a Black female lead out of fear of losing so much money. In some cases if the script is really good, what the studio does is buy the script, hire a White screenwriter to re-write it and cast a white actress in the lead when it gets the greenlight. And an opportunity to tell a different story about the Black experience winds up getting lost in the rigmarole of Hollywood’s storied corporate bureaucracy.
Why did I write All About Marilyn? Because I believed in the story. And I believed it needed to be told. We see the faces of all these sistas in the magazines, on TV and in the tabloids. But we don’t know the truth about their stories. They’re here one minute and gone the next. With All About Marilyn, I wanted to give readers an understanding of why the Black actress is not a household name like her White female counterpart.
White Supremacists in Hollywood have never wanted to elevate the image of the Black woman. In fact they make every effort to keep the Black actress at the bottom. The recent trend White Supremacists in Hollywood want to promote is the interracial relationship between the Black starlet and the White man. In the tabloids and the gossip shows we’ll see sistas dating White men and marrying them. However, For all the talk about Black actresses dating White men, not a single one of these White men they’re involved with are making a single effort to get these sistas any work.
On the business side the Black actress is still at the bottom of the business hierarchy when it comes to Hollywood. While there has been a resurgence of Jezebel, mammy and Sapphire roles like those in Monster’s Ball, Precious, The Help, and Scandal in American film and television those same White male executives who run the big Hollywood studios and date and marry the Black women in the entertainment industry aren’t lifting a single finger to elevate her image.
Not a single one of these White men Black actresses are dating or married to are looking to help get a Black actress a quality script. Not a single one of these White men Black actresses are dating or married to are trying to help a Black actress pitch a project to a studio. Not a single one of these White male executives married to Black actresses is trying to work greenlight a project for the Black woman they supposedly love. Not a single one of these White men a Black actress is dating or married to is trying to help her get cast in a role that will elevate the image of Black women and make it the equal to that of White women.
I was always taught that it was a man’s job to protect his woman. To protect her image. And to uplift her image so that she could transmit a message to his children that with God’s guidance they could achieve anything they wanted in life.
But when it comes to the rich White men in Hollywood who date and marry Black women you don’t see them protecting the Black women they marry. You don’t see them uplifting her image. For fifteen years they have sat back and profited as the image of the Black woman they supposedly love so much has been dragged into the sewer in movies he greenlights, produces, and distributes.
And the culture that has been transmitted to Black children from the Black women who imbibe this media all over America has been one where debauchery and degeneracy are now seen as social norms in Black communities.
And While most American Black women promote the idea of dating and marrying White men on the streets, The rich White men in Hollywood exploit the masses of sistas by taking a chunk of their $3.3 trillion dollars at the box office to watch degrading images of themselves their grandmothers and great-grandmothers would have protested 40 years ago.
The truth is that there has only been one person out to protect the image of the Black woman in Hollywood. And that person has been the heterosexual Black man. Just like in the 1940’s when John H. Johnson started Ebony Magazine and the 1970’s when Gordon Parks started Essence Magazine, Heterosexual Black men have always strived to protect the image of the Black woman. They have always strived to preserve the image of the Black woman And they have worked tirelessly to elevate the image of the Black woman.
And they still do. Quite a few of the Black men working in film today still strive to elevate the image of the Black woman. There are still brothers and sisters out here who want to present the best image of our sisters to the world. And they fight to get their projects funded, produced, and distributed to a larger audience by working outside of the White Supremacist Hollywood system. Whenever a working Black actress wants a quality role with depth and substance that will allow her to show her acting range she doesn’t go to a White man. No, she goes to an independent Black screenwriter like myself for a script and an independent Black-owned production company to produce it. Because she knows the only man out to protect her reputation and put the best image of her onscreen are the Black men behind the camera.
Six years after the publication of the All About Marilyn paperback, I still strive to elevate the image of the Black woman in my current novels like The Thetas and novelettes like the Isis series. And from the feedback I’ve received from women all over the world over the years regarding All About Marilyn has been in print I know there’s a large international audience for movie featuring a Black female lead in a multi-dimensional complex humanized role that’s NOT a slave, mammy, maid or a jezebel. It’s just a matter of a smart Black filmmaker getting that film to the marketplace.