"Son do you know why I'm stoppin' you for?"

Cause I'm young and I'm black and my hat's real low?

"Licence and registration and step out of the car"

"Are you carryin' a weapon on you? I know a lot of you are"

"We'll see how smart you are when the K9 come"

Jay-Z, "99 Problems", The Black Album

The pending outcome of the Race and Faith inquiry has rekindled the matter of racism in the Metropolitan Police in the national news agenda.

Duwayne Brooks, who witnessed the violent death of friend Stephen Lawrence, insists that racism still dominates the Met's actions.

If we analyse the issue through film, we find several telltale documentaries, such as The Secret Policeman (BBC, 2003) which resulted in the disciplining and the resignation of several officers.

However one of the "99 problems", to evoke Jay-Z’s terminology, is that institutional racism is not limited to documentary. Fiction also upholds white supremacy.

Mindless escapism or racist text on 'passing'?

Historically, Hollywood participated in the theatrical practice of 'blackface'. Instead of employing 'coloured' actors, they hired white actors who darkened their skin to avoid visual ambiguity onscreen, such as in Birth Of A Nation (1915).

'Passing' still takes place today, but of a different kind – many 'non-white' actors shift between portraying characters of different races.

"As a TV extra in L.A., I have played Armenian, Hispanic, and white characters," says Rachel, 23, who is of Bolivian and Jewish ancestry. "Once you look 'ethnic', they'll make it work."

Tokenism: minority of 'minority' writers

'Tokenism' is also a concern within the entertainment industry. As APF reporter Watkins points out, writers use material from their own experiences, which obscures persons of colour because they are imagining "experiences they can’t conceivably know about."

Ten years ago, The Hollywood Reporter found that, of the writers employed on primetime dramas and sitcoms on the major television networks the US, only 6.6% were black, 1.3% were Latino, 0.3% were Asian, and there were no native Americans.

In spite of significant advances being made since then, particularly after the merge of The WB with UPN, white writers still remain the majority in Hollywood.

Crash: racism in the police force

Though Hollywood typically suppresses racial discord, Oscar award-winning Crash (2004) looks at the complexities of racial conflict.

Officer Hanson does not intervene when his partner Officer Ryan molests a black woman Christine in an unwarranted 'stop-and-search'; instead he requests to switch partners.

His Lieutenant, who is black, says, "You don't mind that there is a racist prick on the force, you just don't want him to ride in your car."

This Hollywood line precisely reflects what Duwayne Brooks refers to by his words: "The problems are with senior management. Nobody really wants to change how the Met does things.

"If they really wanted to change, we wouldn't have the MacPherson report… there would be a natural change because the public would be unhappy about the way they're being treated."

A fine line between news and entertainment

The entertainment industry mirrors the real world through news media representations.

In response to allegations that the police did not give a 'proportional response to all murders, Metropolitan Police Sir Ian Blair replied: "The media is guilty of institutional racism.

"The death of the young lawyer was terrible, but an Asian man was dragged to his death, a woman was chopped up in Lewisham, a chap shot in the head in a Trident murder – they got a paragraph on page 97," he told the BBC.

Though this comment was made three years ago, we may wonder whether or not anything has changed. Can we say with surety that either the entertainment industry or media gatekeepers have been innocent and neutral when it comes to representing race and racism?

Video by Sacha Fortune
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99 problems with racism in Hollywood

By: Sacha Fortune