In the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Fruitvale where I live, it is interesting, frustrating and funny to see this very large billboard promoting the new Cameron Crowe written/directed movie, “Aloha“:
To my eye it is striking to see three, very large, very prominent facial photos of relatively attractive white people next to the Hawaiian word “Aloha”. Now, don’t get me wrong, I liked Bradley Cooper (the white male actor in the photo) in “Silver Linings Playbook” and I heard he’s real good in Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” as well. But for some reason, seeing these faces in the midst of the predominantly “colored” neighborhood in which I live seems very out-of-touch-with-everything to me. When I see these faces, when I read the word “Aloha” (the film is set in Hawaii), I don’t think of these faces on the billboard. I think of my pidgin-speaking-Big-Island-born Grandfather. I think of the Hawaiian-blood residents of that island, who like indigenous people in other parts of the world, have had to struggle against being wiped out. I think of the many other faces of color that populate those islands.
I’m not saying white people aren’t to be associated with Hawaii. I’m not saying it’s not authentic to have them star in movies set in Hawaii (white folks make up a little over 20% of the population according to the census). I’m just saying that it seems very much behind-the-times for me to see such faces in such a movie. It speaks very clearly to me of the unbalanced world-view that is still promulgated in the U.S. media machine. In the eyes of the people who’s hands run the gears and levers of that machine, it is still very much a white, white world. Which is funny when you consider the fact that white people are essentially a minority in the world population. Seeing these faces on this billboard speaks to the concepts of “white privilege”, “colonization”, and other academic terms which seek to articulate the phenomenon of one group of human beings viewing another group with fear and seeking to control that group with violence; and materialistically “benefiting” off of the subjugation of that group (although, how any human can truly, holistically benefit off of the violent subjugation of another human being is curious to me). It’s even more interesting in light of the recent #Blacklivesmatter “movement” which arose in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. To me that hashtag expresses the sentiment, “I’m a human being! See me in all my dimensions so that you may perceive me as more than a racist stereotype! Treat me with the human dignity I deserve!”.
So to see such a prominent billboard like that*, in a neighborhood where most of the people you see walking around are Latino, Black or Asian makes me think: Damn. Our stories are still not being told. Our perspectives are still not being heard. Our faces are still not being seen.
And being seen, being perceived, is what visual storytelling, the kind which Hollywood specializes in, can help us to do – help us to perceive in three-dimensions so that we might develop into more human human beings.
*In contrast to that, it almost seemed radical to see the 2013 movie posters for Ryan Coogler’s “Fruitvale Station” prominently displayed around the neighborhood and especially at the Fruitvale BART station. Although, it would be nice to see more mass media films featuring Black or other people of color in leading roles whose plots are about something other than pain/death/violence.