MICHELE NORRIS, host:
You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Steven Barnes is a science fiction writer, a novelist and a film buff. He's also a black man, and he's noticed an interesting trend.
STEVEN BARNES: If you go to IMDB.com - the Internet Movie Data Base - of the roughly 350 films that have earned over a hundred million dollars, about 50 of them have love scenes. From PG to R, from Bond through Basic Instinct, you'll find such sequences in about 15 percent of the most popular films ever made, and every single one features a white guy. If you scan the same list for American films with non-white leads, again - there are about 50 - you'll find love scenes in zero percent.
That's right, zero. No blacks. No Latinos. No Asians. Hollywood makes such films. You can find them further down on the list, but America wouldn't watch them. About 15 years ago, I sat in a movie theater in Westwood, California watching the trailer for the new Spike Lee movie Mo Better Blues. A slow, sensuous love scene began between Denzel Washington and a black woman. Instead of watching the screen, I turned around and examined the audience. All of the other moviegoers were white. All of the women in the theater leaned forward, toward the screen. All of the men pressed away, back in their seats, as if utterly repulsed. I remember watching a science-fiction movie called Damnation Alley back in the late 70's.
In it, George Peppard, Jan-Michael Vincent and Paul Winfield travel across an atomic wasteland in a nuclear-powered Winnebago. They approach the ruins of a shattered city, and out walks the last woman in the world - and she's white. I leaned across to my buddy and said, oh my God. They're going to kill Paul Winfield. Why would you say that? She's the last woman in the world, I replied. They're not going to pretend he's not interested, and they're not going to let him compete for her. You are entirely too young to be so cynical, he said.
Five minutes later, Winfield got eaten by giant cockroaches. I'm convinced that the problem is not just Hollywood executives. They're no better or worse than the rest of us. They simply try to keep track of what the audience wants and rejects, as measured by box office receipts. And I don't believe there's something especially twisted or limited about the white majority. No, I suspect that's it's the depiction of specific reproductive behavior - even at a genteel When Harry Met Sally level - that triggers the most powerful negative response, especially in male alpha-warrior types.
The Latino to crack the coveted $100-million mark, Antonio Banderas, did it in a family film, Spy Kids 2 - and he's European. Once about a time, non-white males had a hard time surviving action movies. Now they can survive and even succeed as long as they stayed clothed. Brad Pitt can have saucy love scenes with Angelina Jolie and still earn almost $200 million dollars. But when they remake Shaft for a wide audience and Sam Jackson gets only one kiss in the entire film, upright and clothed. Of course, that's better than Morgan Freeman, who has had only one screen kiss in his entire career.
No, unless you're white, you aren't doing the nasty - not with a black woman, not with an Asian woman, not with anyone.
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NORRIS: Steven Barnes is a screenwriter and science fiction novelist. He lives in Covina, California.
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