“That’s the trouble with you readers,” Joe Gillis says to Betty Schaefer in Sunset Boulevard, “you know all the plots.”
For hundreds of years, we have seen the same plots play out in our criminal justice system, as the intrinsic systems of oppression in this country do what they were built to do–devalue Black lives and exonerate those in power for discrimination, harassment, and outright murder.
Those of us who know classic film know that the studio system was complicit in the devaluing of Black lives. They gave in to Jim Crow laws and cast Black actors in roles of maids, servants, and porters–never as lawyers, doctors, or scientists. The money from the Jim Crow south was more important to the studio heads than the humanity of the people they portrayed, or challenging existing social norms in the United States as a whole. It was wrong then, and it’s wrong now.
Here at Backlots, Black lives matter. Black lives are woven into the fabric of classic Hollywood, both on and off the screen. We as writers on classic film have a responsibility to do our part to dismantle the systems of oppression perpetuated by the powers-that-were during the era of the studio system. I pledge to do my part by focusing on the Black experience in Hollywood, which was vibrant, rich, and diverse, in direct spite of its outright censorship by the studios.
I am heartened to see the plot start to change. The charges against Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd have been upgraded, and 3 other officers charged. Protests in the street are dominating the news, and it seems that we’re on the cusp of something big.
Lena Horne said it best: “Nobody, black or white, who really believes in democracy can stand aside now. Everybody’s got to stand up and be counted.” I stand in solidarity with the protestors and those working to change the plot for good.