Black thug. Welfare queen. Token black friend. Crazy black woman. Vigilante slave.
We’re well-aware that these stereotypes have flooded big and small screens with shortsighted portrayals of the collective black experience.
Actor Larenz Tate sat down with HuffPost Live host Marc Lamont Hill on Tuesday and discussed how stereotypical black roles are still overrepresented in Hollywood. He pointed to a shortage of directors and producers who think outside the box, and too many who serve up only a few storylines as representative of the black experience, as part of the problem.
“I think what happens with movies that star African Americans or the African-American story, you get one group of directors or producers, and it just stays in that lane,” Tate told Hill. “And we shouldn’t have to all go through one channel.
“We are very diverse. Our stories are very different,” he continued.
Tate also lamented the tendency of films that counter those stock narratives to be poorly promoted at the box office. Case in point: Tate asserted that the 1997 romantic drama Love Jones, which he starred in with Nia Long, did not do well in ticket sales, in part because the Hollywood studio behind it didn’t know how to drum up interest in a black love story.
“When Love Jones came out, it didn’t make an impact at the box office because they didn’t know how to sell a movie that didn’t have people with guns and dealing with the society of … the man’s foot on their neck,” Tate said. “The only thing that got hurt in Love Jones was somebody’s heart. How do you promote that to an audience that you don’t know much about?”
His solution to the problem? “I think it’s important that Hollywood is educated about, you know, our audiences, because [they’re] very diverse and our audiences aren’t just black,” Tate explained. “So it’s really palatable to a broad range of folk to see our stories and to see what we’re doing.”
Tate maintained that he is hopeful about the industry’s ability to break the mold. “I think we’re still working at it. It’s good, but it absolutely could be better,” he said.
He also affirmed that television is paving the way. “TV is only getting better. There’s a lot of people coming back to TV,” he said enthusiastically.
Tate’s TV projects may be an indication that the entertainment industry is warming up to the idea of depicting the breadth of the black experience. He plays two identifical brothers on opposite sides of the law—one a cop and the other an ex-con—in the action-packed film Gun Hill, which premiered on BET July 2. He will also play a doctor on Rush, a new show set to premiere July 17 on USA Network.
Watch the full HuffPost Live interview with Tate here.