Eric Deggans is right to call out Tom Hanks for his hypocrisy in writing an op-ed about the Tulsa massacre, a horrific event in American history that too few people know about (and among many stories just like it) in his op-ed in the New York Times. After all, Tom Hanks himself is calling out Hollywood for not being anti-racist enough. So why shouldn’t Deggans call out Hanks too for how he has contributed to his own article’s premise.
Likewise, when Lin-Manuel Miranda apologizes and promises to “do better” he too is holding himself and all of Hollywood to the impossible standard of leaving no marginalized person behind in his effort to represent a neighborhood that was rich with diversity. He promises he will “do better.”
Deggans is using Hanks’ moment of reckoning, his op-ed, to say that it is simply not enough. He is saying that Hanks, and Hollywood overall, in their efforts to deliver us white male heroes, have left out the black contribution to those stories. And that the only path forward is to admit that and change:
What Hanks (and Hollywood) should do next
If he really wants to make a difference, Hanks and other stars need to talk specifically about how their work has contributed to these problems and how they will change. They need to make specific commitments to changing the conversation in story subjects, casting and execution. That is the truly hard work of building change.
Rather than talk about what “historically based fiction entertainment” must do, why not talk about what Tom Hanks, longtime scripted and documentary executive producer, will do? As a star who can get a movie made just by agreeing to appear in it, what will Tom Hanks, movie star, actually do?
People often say columns such as the one by Hanks are published to start a conversation. Well, here is my suggestion: Let’s make part of that conversation how baby boomer filmmakers have made fortunes amplifying ideas of white American exceptionalism and heroism.
And how their responsibility now lies with helping dismantle and broaden the ideas they helped cement in the American mind.
Various Twitter users called out Lin-Manuel Miranda for not having enough Afro-Cuban cast members and having too many light skinned cast members such that it turned into a story covered by The Root. Miranda then issued an apology which was then picked up by mainstream press and became an even much bigger story.
This conversation, particularly, about the lack of darker-skinned Black Latinx folks is critically important at this very moment in time. Throughout history, there has been the exclusion of and violence towards Blackness within Latinidad. Homogeneity and the illusion of a “race-free culture” within Latinidad is a myth (as Fordham Law professor, Tanya Hernández, previously told The Root). So yes, we absolutely need to discuss why there is only one dark-skinned Black lead (who is portraying a Black non-Latinx character) in the film.
Should I expect cast members (who have no power over casting) to be able to answer questions about pigmentocracy and the privilege of white-passing Latinx folks within Latinidad (who are also starring in In The Heights)? Maybe not.
But I’d gather that the film’s architect can.
No, this headline isn’t from The Onion or the Babylon Bee:
Both Tom Hanks and Lin-Manuel Miranda believed they would come out of these moments as heroes. Why shouldn’t they? What a huge accomplishment for Miranda – a national treasure – to bring his love letter to Washington Heights to the big screen. And Tom Hanks wants to use his celebrity to call out Hollywood for ignoring its racist past. After all, they were trying to DO GOOD. So why wouldn’t they have been rewarded for it.
Because that isn’t how it works, friends. Because there has been zero pushback for those who have been called out for going on what, three or four years now? Because Hollywood has become 100% compliant to the demands of various groups on Twitter to fire people who posted something offensive, to fire them for old tweets, to fire them for being conservatives, to fire them for criticizing people they shouldn’t, because they canceled the Golden Globes and removed the host for the Oscars – that means there is no end to any of it.
If the aim now is to placate previously marginalized groups, to get everything EXACTLY RIGHT, from casting, to thematic content, to what is defined as “offensive,” and if movies are now supposed to be equitable representations of everyone – then almost every movie released will be a failure, but especially those that make an effort to be inclusive like In the Heights. The message being, don’t even bother if you aren’t going to be 100% inclusive of every type of person. From weight to skin color to wardrobe to screen time to issues of consent to cultural appropriation – even if the designers who work on the movie aren’t ethnically appropriate.
By contrast, if it’s a movie starring all white men and made by white men there isn’t a lot that people can complain about except the fact that it’s all white men. I don’t think Generation-Z really understands why box office take is important. They don’t care. They want the movie to be non-problematic, Tumblr approved, Twitter immune. All that matters is that the films are “woke appropriate.” We know this game. We play it every day. We know the line is ever shifting and we know people in Hollywood will continue to do the dance in order to placate those who call them out. There is no one to put up a hand and say, wait a minute – hold on. What is the end goal here?
But it begs the question, what kind of Hollywood does Hollywood, and the online community that polices it, want?
Does anyone walking around the streets of any city in this country believe that Tom Hanks is a pillar of white supremacy who has contributed to America’s legacy of white supremacy and racism? Does any reasonable person think In the Heights is a film that isn’t inclusive? Ah, but it’s the WRONG kind of inclusive. And since Miranda apologized now we know he was the wrong kind. Now we know the movie failed. He failed. The director failed. The studio failed. Its fans failed. Be better. Do better.
This is the part where we have to talk about the market again. The reason there have been so many white-driven films and television shows is a numbers game. It isn’t that there haven’t been non-white stars who could “open” movies – there certainly have been, like Eddie Murphy, Denzel Washington, Will Smith, etc. But it’s that when they “open” movies that has meant, in the past, that white-dominated audiences paid to see them. Tom Hanks was one such movie star who is an American icon for the roles he’s played.
For whatever reason, there aren’t many voices on the Left who will simply tell people the truth out there about the market, box office and the star system, not to mention how America is 60% white and was 70% white in the 90s and 80% white prior to that. By 2060 whites will be around 40%, it is foretold. More white people means that they are going to gravitate to stories about white people. Is that fair? No, it isn’t fair but it is the truth.
What is happening today to In the Heights and Tom Hanks is 100% the Hollywood that Hollywood says it wants. They are mostly good, well-meaning people who want to do good in the world. They want to be held accountable for their past, to denounce every film ever made that boosted white men at the expense of everyone else. Hollywood has agreed to go along with the idea that no one can be forgiven unless they repent, confess and promise to change.
I once again have to post Jonathan Pie’s video about cancel culture to make this point far better than I ever could:
The culture around the discussion of film and politics has merged. There is no difference anymore, which is why the last thing most people on Film Twitter are going to talk about is whether a movie is good or not. The first thing that happens is everyone pulls our their detective magnifying glass to do a deep dive to find anything problematic in the work. If the work meets every possible and impossible standard, then the people who made the work are scrutinized. Someone is out there as we speak digging through old tweets and any “proof” from anyone’s past to reveal who they really are and let the purge begin.
It seems we’re headed down a treacherous path where utopia is achieved when all films from the past are tossed, all American history while we’re at it, and in their place some kind of rebirth of a new definition of art and history. This is the cultural revolution we’re living through at the hands of the American Left and especially among the most powerful corporate institutions who really do jump when Twitter says how high.
They have sent the message that this is who they are. This is who they want to be. Tom Hanks believes, and Lin-Manuel Miranda believes, and anyone else out there who expects to work in Hollywood believes that as long as they prove how much they care by saying nothing when others are persecuted, humiliated and purged, as long as they go along with it and point their fingers too they will be spared.
But they won’t be.
Whenever humans have had public arenas they have always used them to shame members of their community both to satisfy some deep need to see others punished, and perhaps to purify their idea of an achievable utopia. It has never gone well.
Ellie Kemper was someone who stood with Black Lives Matter, who lived her life as an anti-racist. And she was still dragged out into the virtual public square and called a racist when an old photo of her at the Veiled Prophet’s Ball somehow magically turned up. It predates the KKK and is racist the same way golf courses were racist and everything in the segregated south was racist. But to call her a Klan princess was a lie. But here’s the thing, she buckled. She apologized. Like Lin-Manuel Miranda apologized. Like Tom Hanks is going to apologize.
For people who have not been heard for most of their history and their lives they have only now to use the moment and exert their power. They can’t be faulted for that. Everyone has a right to fight for the America they want, and I guess the Hollywood they want. But sooner or later we all have to remember what the whole point of art is in the first place. What it is designed to do.
We still need our heroes, even those who did not do the exact right thing in our past. They did the best they could with the tools they were given and at the time they believed were right. Winston Churchill believed in eugenics, as did many others back then. But he also saved the world from Hitler. He deserves to be remembered as a hero for that.
Tom Hanks might have been a star at a time when most of the stars were white men but that is more to do with his films making money than anything else. The films he made mean something to a lot of people and shaming them for liking those films isn’t going to help change anything. Not that it isn’t worth a discussion and I think Deggans offered up a good one. Tom Hanks called out Hollywood and Deggans called out Tom Hanks. Turnabout is fair play.
Because so many on the Left live in fear every day of being called a racist (trust me, it isn’t fun) such that they CANCELED THE GOLDEN GLOBES, very few will stand up for anything or anyone. They can’t afford to damage their image and their jobs are on the line.
This is the Hollywood Hollywood wants. This is the bed they have made for themselves. And now, they must lie in it.
We still need our heroes, problematic though they may be, because they tell a story and that story should not be ripped up or erased. It should not be denounced and hidden from view. We should all understand that humans are imperfect. That horrific crimes have been committed not just in our history, but in the history of mankind from the moment we walked out of Africa. I could tell you stories that would make your toes curl, about Rome, about Stalin. It hasn’t been a pretty picture. But the one thing we can’t do without is art. Art is not propaganda. It is not a user’s manual. It is not meant to be perfect. It must reside as it is, caught in its time, appreciated for what it achieved and what it did not.
But it isn’t for me to say. You make the world you want. You make the country you want. You make the Hollywood you want.