Mixed-race couples in movies or the lack thereof: conservatism in Hollywood

Photo by Flickr user LaneG. License: CC-BY-2.0

Photo by Flickr user LaneG. License: CC-BY-2.0

This is just a pet peeve of mine, but it’s one I think should be more discussed than it is. My concern is that recently Hollywood seems to be much more squeamish about the subject of mixed-race couples in movies.

Don’t misunderstand. I know Hollywood produces/has produced many movies dealing with the issue of mixed-race couples. And I mean that’s cool – romantic tension helps make movies entertaining. My problem, when it comes to Hollywood, is that whenever the issue of mixed-race couples comes up, it’s just that: it’s an issue.

In researching this piece I was surprised by how few American movies dealt with mixed-race couples without turning it into the biggest problem ever.

There were none, actually. I couldn’t find a movie that took the idea of mixed-race relationships seriously, that didn’t also feature the said mixed-race relationship as a central or major plot hinge.

Just so you know what I’m talking about let’s use Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever (1991) as an example. Though part of the outrage in the movie has to do with cheating, the two main characters’ lives are totally destroyed. Most importantly though, the main preoccupation of the film and the reason for this complete blow up is that the two main characters are of different ethnicities.

In other words it’s a huge fucking issue.

The only exception to the rule is comedy, and in a way this almost bothers me more. Wayne, from Wayne’s World (1992) pursues Cassandra because she’s hot and the leader of a rock group. The fact she’s Asian kind of factors in, but not negatively, and who cares either way? She’s hot. That makes sense to me as a viewer. So why wouldn’t Wayne go for her?

At the end of Napoleon Dynamite (2004) when Kip and LaFawnduh get married, I don’t get the sense LaFawnduh’s family members were cringing because Kip is a white guy: more because Kip is a nerd and they met online.

While Wayne’s World and Napoleon Dynamite are good and entertaining movies, and feature examples of functional mixed-race couples (they wanted to be together, so they ended up together; no issue to do with race, just individuals deciding they want to be together), I still find it disconcerting that seemingly the only Hollywood movies that can deal with functional mixed-race couples are comedies.

If you include comedies the field opens up, but I’m still uncomfortable stopping there. Comedies allow audiences to cop out immediately. They know the situations depicted on screen never could’ve happened, that’s why it’s funny, but it prevents the viewer from taking anything in the story seriously.

I feel this is an important issue for two major reasons. For one thing, Hollywood often has a reputation for taking the liberal side of issues, whether political, social or whatever.

On the topic of mixed race relationships, though, Hollywood’s liberal reputation is undeserved and can fairly be described as conservative.

While the Wikipedia list is far from conclusive, I found it was one of the better ones, and in reading it I was surprised how many of the movies dealing with mixed-race couples were released in the 1960s and earlier.

Hollywood had a resurgence of interest in ‘the issue’ in the late 80s/early 90s, but again all these movies suffer from the same delusion that mixed-race romance needs to be an issue at all. Seriously, why can’t they just get together? In the last decade (2003 – 2013) you’d be hard-pressed to find a director willing to touch the subject, outside of comedy.

My second point is that times have changed. Going to school in Toronto  – a city as diverse as it is – and being on campus, which is comparatively even more diverse, the topic of mixed-race dating is almost painful for me to talk about because it’s such a nonissue.

It’s the same story in the U.S. as well. Major cities are becoming increasingly diverse. My point is, for me anyways, it’s much weirder to see the pure white bread, homogeneous picture of America that Hollywood is selling, than the reality.

And what is the reality, you ask? Well, the number of mixed-race marriages are increasing in America and Canada, and the number of children identifying as mixed-race is the fastest-growing youth group in America (Toronto insights here). Suffice it to say the North America Hollywood so often depicts is more than a few decades out of date.

All this isn’t to say mixed-race anything has become simple, because it hasn’t.

As far back as recorded history goes, societies have always had difficulty dealing with the concerns of different ethnic groups, and mixed-race couples often pose particularly difficult issues.

Why, though? Because most societies make things more difficult than they have to be – that’s why.

Even North American society, with all its diversity and acceptance, is still far from perfect.

Really, I think it’s because sex is icky to talk about and love is difficult to quantify when challenged (and everyone wants their grandkids to look like them anyway… right?).

But what I’m saying is that at this point what Hollywood is doing is verging on harmful. The fact is that in North America today, people are having fully functional and healthy relationships without their race, ethnicity, background or whatever playing a particularly negative role. This is happening, and it’s really not unbelievable.

My point here is that Hollywood, in only showing racially homogenous couples or mixed-race couples that had to overcome significant difficulties to be together, is at this point outdated and undervaluing how far society has actually come.

In a weird way, Hollywood is almost helping reinforce a segregationist attitude by insinuating racially homogenous couples are more stable, healthier and more functional than racially mixed ones.

I’m not naïve. Hollywood is a business first. And while North American society has changed, Hollywood still has to market its movies on a global, and largely more conservative scale, as well as to the bigoted hillbillies back home.

I get the fact that there’s a reason for this. I just think someone needs to call them out on it.

Photo by Flickr user LaneG. License: CC-BY-2.0