The Curious Case of Anthony Mackie
In calling out black Hollywood for being "lazy," The Adjustment Bureau star is ignoring the record of mainstream Hollywood -- and his own career.
If arrogance had a name, it would be Anthony Mackie. Mackie, who is quite frankly an amazing actor, put his proverbial foot in his mouth last week in an interview with the Grio, saying that people in black Hollywood are being "lazy on their game."
Mackie has had a pretty interesting career trajectory, navigating between independent films like Desert Flower and Night Catches Us and bona fide hits like The Hurt Locker and the newly released The Adjustment Bureau. He has worked with seminal directors like Spike Lee, Jonathan Demme and Kathryn Bigelow, delivering solid performances each and every time. He's the guy who made us think in Brother to Brother, care in She Hate Me and wonder in Night Catches Us. Unfortunately, Mackie has revealed himself to be a shortsighted brother who speaks some truth, but in a vacuum.
While Mackie raises some important points -- e.g., if black people don't tell their stories, then who else will? -- he sabotaged himself by using the infamous word "lazy." You would think that a brother from New Orleans, a city that has been historically demonized because of issues of racism and poverty, would be conscious enough to realize that the term could be seized upon by those who support the status quo to make a mockery out of black people in general, and black Hollywood specifically.
To suggest that black people in Hollywood are "lazy" is the height of arrogance, particularly from someone who is not a spring chicken in the industry. Mackie has been working steadily in Hollywood for almost a decade, so my immediate thought when he wondered aloud about what black people in Hollywood are doing was, what has he been doing? It's easy to cast stones when you're basking in the glow of The Hurt Locker and The Adjustment Bureau, but if making films in Hollywood is so easy, where are his?
Mackie, who has done considerable work in the independent arena, should understand why the best stories are told outside of the Hollywood system: Hollywood is not really interested in telling a diverse range of black stories. And the reason is not rocket science: Those making decisions and signing checks are interested only in portraying a certain type of black experience -- one that is filled with pathological behavior, raging stereotypes and neo-versions of dominant narratives in which blacks are flat, typical characters reminiscent of those that have come before.
For example, the character that Mackie plays in The Adjustment Bureau, Harry Mitchell, is typical. He's a black man who sacrifices himself and his career to save a white man. Mackie does not appear to be aware of his own oppression in the Hollywood film industry, which is frightening.
How is Mackie going to call out black folks for not telling black stories, and let Hollywood off the hook? Why not call out Hollywood for recycling tired images of black men on film? Perhaps it's because it might affect his ability to get hired and to keep those lovely checks coming in, which brings me to my next point.