October 18, 2012
Joaquin Phoenix talks about racism in Hollywood
MITCHELL: But that's what hip-hop used to be. It was dangerous.
PHOENIX: Let me ask you a question. I was just with my mother and my stepfather to do this work with peaceful, nonconflict resolution. They work with a lot of kids, and I was just visiting with them, which fascinated me because this place they were working is this last-of-the-line school, like the one you go to right before you're in jail. These kids have already been kicked out of every school. So here I am in this class with these kids, and they say, "Talk about what your gifts are this year." And this one girl is like, "Two hands." She has two hands—she's a fighter. And this is a gift, right? But it's tough because on the way rolling over there I was bumping fucking Weezy—and I love hardcore rap—but I felt supremely guilty. I'm hanging out with this 13-year-old kid, and I'm thinking about me at 13. Is there enough rage and dissatisfaction in your life where it feels like you're never fucking heard and no one ever gives a fuck about you? I was angry when that was going on, and I was raised where I wasn't worried about whether I was going to be able to eat tomorrow. I wasn't worried about my safety—
MITCHELL: You're not worried if you're going to be arrested or stopped in the street for no reason.
PHOENIX: Yeah. So I don't experience any of that. I mean, dude, how can you work in film and still see the overt racism that exists in film and not just be furious all the time?
MITCHELL: You know what? As a black person, you see so much racism. Films are no different than the government, politics—it's everywhere. It's not exclusively film. It's infuriating to see it in film. But my being in film changes things.
PHOENIX: Yeah, but there's all of this horrible racism that white people don't even recognize. Did you see Jumping the Broom?
MITCHELL: I'm a black person. Of course I saw it.
PHOENIX: I feel like all white people have to see the film just because I've never seen a movie in which most of the white characters in the movie were just working. It was fucking great. It was almost comical. There was a scene during the wedding reception, and there are, like, eight white people just carrying stuff. The main white character with some dialogue was the ditzy, stupid assistant. I enjoyed it so much because you never see that. But that's something that I think white people don't notice. They don't notice that the fourth character is black and that's what it always is. It's always happening. It's just the assumption that, "Well, that's just a representation of life."
MITCHELL: But you know what's also underneath that? A lot of the time you see all this ambition from these black actors and it's just pouring off the screen. Because they don't often get a chance to work, and when they do, they don't usually get a chance to work with other black people. You can just see the pleasure of those actors. I went to see that movie with my sisters and you could see the crowd levitating. People wonder why black kids don't go to the movies. It's because, what's the point? If you don't see yourself, then why would you go?
PHOENIX: You know, I got this script a while ago for this thing. It was kind of like an action movie, and it definitely dealt with race in a big way. But then it didn't. Without getting into specifics . . .
MITCHELL: Did the film get made?
PHOENIX: Oh, it got made. But you could not believe that this thing actually got made, because it seemed like it was from the 1940s or something. It's got this black character in it who was literally always being saved by the white dude because he was, like, cowering in the corner. So I went in and met the director and producer and I said, "You guys realize that your only black character is this guy, and it's like the most clichéd thing we've seen in movies forever." And they were like, "What do you mean?" And I was like, "You mean you're not even aware of it?" They didn't even realize what they were doing. So I said, "Look, I'll give them a read if the black character doesn't get killed and is going to make it into the sequel. They have to put him in their sequel, the black character." So I spoke to the writer and was like, "Dude, be a hero. When this movie comes out in the summertime, give black kids a character they can see themselves in." But it just didn't occur to them, and I realized what a battle it is when people aren't even aware of what they're doing. I know what that battle is. I've done battles like that before, and you lose. So I didn't do the movie . . . They did keep the black character alive, though. He's in the sequel-at least, that's what I've heard.
MITCHELL: Was it a successful movie?
PHOENIX: I don't think it's come out yet. It's one of those big action movies.
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