Each week on The Ringer’s The Bakari Sellers Podcast, the popular author and commentator draws from his vast experience as both a lawyer and politician to tackle current events and myriad other topics with high-profile guests. He’s discussed transitioning into the cannabis industry with NBA vet Al Harrington, prison reform with Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five, and in the latest episode, he chops it up with screenwriter and producer Malcolm Spellman on the challenges and limitations that Black creatives face in Hollywood.
“What I try to impart, because we work with a lot of young, Black writers now, is the cultural gap between where we come from as working-class people and from a Black world is just different,” Spellman said. “A lot of what you have been taught culturally does not apply in Hollywood, and the first gap I had to get over was understanding success, white culture, and mentorship.”
He continued, “Passive-aggressive culture is what’s common in the Hollywood space, but the culture from where we come from is much more direct and confrontational. At first, I originally took mentorship as an insult. I thought people were telling me that I was weak and that I wasn’t smart enough to make it in the industry. The truth is now that I have been around successful people, all they do is ask for help. And all they do is reach out to people. All those cultural gaps, combined with the tacit racism in Hollywood, I would guesstimate cost me 10 years in my career.”
Spellman also had some thoughts on juggling projects that speak to Black culture while also being acknowledged by Hollywood as a fully developed screenwriter.
“Currently, it can’t be done in my opinion. Not comprehensively at least,” he began. “The problem is the racism in this business is coming from people who truly don’t want to be racist. That is very hard to untangle. They want to help, but the first thing they have to understand is right now you will never see a Black filmmaker working on a “white” project. In general, we are in the high 90 percentile confined to Black projects. We take pride in that except for there is an extreme, overt stigma on Blackness in this business.”
He continued, “They don’t believe that Black money spends the same as white money. If Tyler Perry generates $100 million, they are never going to admit this, but they go yeah but that came from Black folk. Also, the myth that is the worst is that they truly believe that they don’t want to see Black leads overseas. International is everything now and international is a barrier that limits what kind of marketing Black projects get, how big Black stars can be, and what the reach of our movies can be.”
Spellman’s perspective on this particular topic is interesting considering he recently served as showrunner and executive producer on the wildly successful Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier—which concluded with the introduction of a Black Captain America.
“In my initial pitch to Marvel, they knew they weren’t going to be able to avoid the Blackness of this project,” Spellman said. “I think the reason why they chose me for this project is I felt that to hand a Black man the stars and stripes, and say you are going to be Captain America, you can’t skate around what that means.”
To Spellman’s interview in full, check out the latest episode of The Bakari Sellers Podcast on your podcast platform of choice.