I apologize in advance, because this blog posting was written in anger. I was so angry about this last night I started to cry --I'm so angry it's hard to get the words out. And I apologize, because this isn't a specifically Asian American story. But it's about the fight that we face, nonetheless. I work in documentary film production, for a very large film corporation that will sue me if they find out I've blogged about them, so it shall remain nameless. Right now I'm in a battle I'd never thought I'd be in, one that touches on the very basic issues of ethnic representation in the media, and I've gotten a big insight into how difficult it is to make the smallest inroads in this white-dominated industry. I have just finished writing and coproducing a film about African Americans during World War I. The other members of this team are all white; I'm in fact the only nonwhite of the 25 people in this department (there are many women,gays, and Jews, to be fair). The film is (unsurprisingly) about the incredible prejudice faced by black soldiers, how blacks were overlooked in favor of a white commander, how most were made laborers and not allowed to fight, how they were not allowed to march in the victory parade in Paris, how they returned to Jim Crow and lynchings. I would like to have a black man narrate the film. It's an African American story, and I think it's appropriate to have an African American voice relaying it. As the film is about opportunity and representation, I also think in whatever small way I can, it would be nice to give a black actor that opportunity. I wish that the film came from a place that had greater consciousness of race issues, that had African Americans on staff (there was one, but she left) and that engaged on these topics more than once or twice of the 100 films we are making. But as that is not to be, I feel the least I can do is get a black narrator. Incredibly to me, I am getting a lot of opposition on this idea from my producer. He feels it would be mere tokenism to have one of the 100 films we are making be narrated by a different voice. Plus, he argues, "what does it mean to have a black voice, anyway? A lot of the people we've auditioned, quite frankly, didn't 'sound black.'" And should we have only French people tell the stories about France, and Germans tell the stories we have about Germany? His arguments both enrage me, and to me, expose his ignorance of race relations in America. I am not fighting for this because I want someone who "sounds black" --otherwise, we could just get a white man to speak with a "black accent." (That's something they did on a previous film, which is a whole nother story and is so offensive to me I practically lose consciousness.) I want to honor our subject matter through the PROCESS of the making of the film. I want to acknowledge the historical silencing of black voices by letting them speak out now. And i want to open the industry to include African Americans, even if it's just for this film, even if some would say it smacks as window dressing on a film that was made in an environment that adheres to the white, patriarchical hegemony of 35 years ago. The thing that bothers me most about this is that I like pretty much everyone I work with. Documentary filmmakers tend to be progressive, compassionate people, who are aware of social issues. My producer worked for CBS --lord knows he should have a great deal of social awareness --and does on certain levels. I respect the work of my colleagues --but I feel like I'm pretty alone in this fight right now. The people I have shared this problem with give me sympathetic nods, but no one has gone to bat with me on this. And the producer I work for is intractable. Which makes me realize why it's so hard for things to change in the media, which let's face it, is still run largely by white men. It's not that they don't care (though I'm sure many don't), but for me, where I work, it's that they can't even SEE. Race is an abstract concept to them, something they can choose to consider, or choose to dismiss. If it becomes a little more complicated, they can opt out of the question. And, it seems to me that my producer sees ethnicity is merely another flavor --seasonings on top of the white. There's French flavor, and we're not using the French-flavored narrator, so why should we go with the Black flavor? As if that were an equal equation --as if the history of racial exclusion that we SPELL OUT IN THE FILM does not apply to us, is not a problem that we all have a responsibility to reverse. And call me an idealistic bleeding heart liberal, but I still want to fight for social justice and change the world in whatever small way I can. Yes, I've sold out. I work for a big corporation making very conventional films. I'm not walking picket lines or lobbying congress or feeding starving children in Africa. But in this place where I am, I can do this one, little, tiny thing. I want to give the film just a little bit more integrity. And I am totally baffled that my colleagues don't understand this. So please tell me, am I overreacting or otherwise totally off base? Should I just acknowledge the fact that I'm working for THE MAN, that the film is the result of an ivory tower full of well-intentioned but ignorant white people, and give up this fight? Would having one black narrator be such tokenism that it's better to stick with someone white? And if not, what can I say to my boss to make him understand? Should I give him a copy of Marlon Rigg's "Color Adjustment?" I honestly don't know what more I can say, other than sending him to an African American history class. Am I wrong in feeling this argument symbolizes more than my boss realizes?