Racism in Pop Culture
Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, both names are familiar and quite popular in Hollywood and on television. An emerging actor John Boyega whose name may not be widely known nevertheless impressed the audience with his character Finn from Star Wars. But as popular as these movie actors are, the movie that they all starred in The Circle did not sit well with the audience. In addition to the movie’s low rating on film review sites and its abrupt ending that left viewers with mixed feelings, it is difficult to ignore the inferential racism that is portrayed. Mae who is a white young woman that has big dreams and aspirations wins at the day with the help of Ty Lafitte, an African American individual. Despite the acknowledged progress that America has taken concerning the end of racism, there are still visible marks present in pop culture which doesn’t seem to end.
Inferential racism, racism that is not overt or apparent, is what seems to be perpetuated in the movie The Circle. Michael Omi in his essay In Living Color: Race and American Culture argues that inferential racism is more common since its invisible to the world. In order words, its invisibility makes it difficult for one to point out or criticize. I wasn’t aware of this form of racism myself. This essay will identify the racism that takes place in the movie The Circle in the purpose of bringing to light the problems with its portrayal and why it is therefore deemed wrong.
How it works
Matt Zoller Seitz in his essay The Offensive Movie Cliche That Won’t Die analyzes the term Magical Negro and its representation in pop culture today. Similarly to the synopsis with the popular white girl with her two dull best friends, the Magical Negro became a common addition to movies. Morgan Freeman in Bruce Almighty, Will Smith in Hitch and John Legend in the beloved La La Land. All these actors have played roles that define the Magical Negro- an assistant to the main protagonist, habitually caucasian, in their journey throughout the movie without having a story of their own. Seitz describes them as a saintly African-American character who acts as a mentor to a questing white hero (Seitz 336). Ty Lafitte, played by John Boyega, acts as the Magical Negro in this movie.
Ty is present in the movie yet he isn’t. He is available to inform Mae of the problems and he is there to help Mae fix it. That’s it. All other times, he appears to be looking over Mae like a guardian angel who is ready to correct her mistakes or ready to jump in and help her in whatever way she needs guidance. Well, what is so wrong about this? The problem is not the fact that a black actor is playing a role in a movie that helps a white person. The problem is that it is a continuous scenario we tend to notice and see in American Movies. Hardly are the roles ever reversed. “”Film and television have been notorious in disseminating images of racial minorities which establish for audiences what these groups look like, how they behave, and, in essence, who they are (Omi 466). If African Americans are continually identified as a particular persona in most movies with caucasian leads, it ultimately becomes part of whom they are; inducing in again the master-servant relationship.
Ironically, John Boyega’s character is proposed to be important in this movie. He is supposedly the creator of True you, one of Circle’s largest product. Still, he gets less screen time than Mae’s parents, who primarily are just there as parents. Seitz describes a Magical Negro as someone who seems to stand apart from the rest of the community, even though he’s a familiar and beloved part of it (Seitz 336). In this case, Ty Lafitte stands apart from the rest of the circle yet he is one of its creators. As a character who holds so much power in The Circle, he is unable to fix the issues he has with it. Instead, the rookie at the company saves the day. We can also see this from another perspective. The antagonist and current CEO of The Circle, Eamon Bailey played by Tom Hanks, is a Caucasian character. It can be implied that despite having the same thing, an African American individual cannot stand up to a white person in his class.
In the movie, Ty Laffite takes Mae to an underground tunnel. He shows her the CEO’s intentions are and why she has to stop it. While conversing, he reveals who he really is. “”Why the low profile? asks Mae after learning of his identity. Well, that’s the point. The Magical Negro is not there to steal the spotlight. His only purpose is support for the protagonist. According to Seitz, The M.N. doesn’t really drive the story but is a glorified hood ornament attached to the end of a car that’s being driven by white society (Seitz 339).
Racism, whether inferential or overt, is still very present. Omi claims that pop culture has been a platform in which racism has been sustained. Entertainment and media are very prominent in our society today; meaning that is it a tool the world uses within itself to connect with everyone. If this platform is continually used to induce stereotype and racism, then there is no movement forward concerning racism. Instead, we do nothing more than intoxicating the minds of people. Omi talks about this when he says “”Our common sense assumptions about race and racial minorities in The United States are both generated and reflected in the stereotypes presented by the visual media”” (Omi 467). There is no progress because our views of minorities are being generalized, causing us to see them in a certain way.
Television and entertainment should begin to amend these wrongs. Being oblivious and ignorant will make the problem challenging to combat. The possibilities for change for transforming racial stereotypes and challenging institutional inequities nonetheless exist (Omi 472). They could start by switching these roles or casting minority actors as leads. Recent movies like Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians helped the entertainment industry take a step forward. But even as empowering as the movies were, the fight shouldn’t end there. Actors should be cast based on skills and not skin colors. Actors should also take a stance when choosing or accepting roles. It is arguably to say that emerging actors may want to grow out into public to make their voices known. And so being biased on roles they play may limit their chances. Viola Davis argued this when she had been criticized for her role in The Help. Needless to say, taking a stance on what is right may definitely help in the long run. If minority actors denounce these roles, writers and producers just might be provoked to change their plot.
The audience should also be aware of racism in pop culture and entertainment. As the audience, we should be able to differentiate from what is racist and what is not. The audience should not force itself to consume something that is wrong. The excuse of portraying racism in movies to expose racism might overdo itself now. The act of casting colored actors solely for the purpose of racial roles should be reshaped. Roles with minority actors should be dignifying to the minority community. Racism would only to exist if we continue to turn a blind eye.
The Circle. James Ponsoldt, performances by Emma Stone, Tom Hanks, and John Boyega, IM Global, 2017.
Omi, Michael. In Living Color: Race and American Culture. Signs of Life in the USA. 9th ed., edited by Sonia Maasik, Jack Solomon, Bedford St.martin’s, 2018, pp. 462-473.
Seitz, Matt Zoller. The Offensive Movie Cliche That Won’t Die. Signs of Life in the USA, 9th ed., edited by Sonia Maasik, Jack Solomon, Bedford St.martin’s, 2018, pp. 335-340.