Matthew Rozsa is mad as hell that Sony pulled ‘The Interview.’ But he’s equally horrified by the company’s racist attitudes.
If North Korea has shown the world anything, it is that the executives at Sony are abject cowards.
This may sound rough, but it needs to be said. And since I’ve already expounded at length upon the free speech issue involved here —which, make no mistake about it, is the most pressing one in terms of current events—something should be said about what the hacked emails reveal about that company’s racist attitude toward African Americans.
Because there are two halves to the problem, we’ll inspect them separately.
Exhibit A: Sony chairman Michael Lynton arguing against casting black leads to avoid offending audiences.
“I believe that the international motion picture audience is racist,” he explained in a private email conversation, “In general pictures with an African American lead don’t play well overseas.”
This musing was prompted not by a box office catastrophe, by the way, but by the Denzel Washington hit The Equalizer. That film apparently did very well both domestically and overseas, so Lynton was complaining not of money not made, but of a hypothetically higher amount that might have been grossed.
Having deflated the logic of his gripe, it is important to note the quickness of his moral capitulation. After all, Lynton admits that he personally believes Washington to be “the best actor of his generation.” Certainly he has made enough money for the studio; Lynton, however, simply can’t help but flinch at the thought that they might be upsetting bigots by promoting black leads.
If there is one silver lining to this dimension of the controversy, it’s that the outing of Sony’s racism has prompted them to strike a deal with Al Sharpton in which he will monitor their exclusionary policies in the future. At least their eagerness to please goes both ways.
Exhibit B: Sony’s jokes about President Obama.
If the business community should have been taught anything by this year’s earlier humiliation of Los Angeles Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling—who was caught surreptitiously making racist remarks to his girlfriend—it is that the Internet era does not allow for privacy when it comes to repulsive opinions.
On the one hand, there is a certain hesitation any decent person feels over being too judgmental about the confidentially conveyed prejudices held by others. After all, no one is truly free from the blight of bigotry. Even those of us not raised in the Christian faith acknowledge the importance of the admonition to “judge not, lest ye be judged.”
Then again, it would be nice if people like Sterling had the chutzpah to say publicly what they confided privately. Which brings us to Sony’s jokes about our Commander-in-Chief.
The exchange in question began when Amy Pascal, another executive at Sony Pictures, asked producer Scott Rudin what she should say to President Obama during a fundraiser. Among her comments …
“Should I ask him if he liked DJANGO?” [Django Unchained]
“12 YEARS” [12 Years A Slave]
Pascal: “Or the butler. Or think like a man?” [The Butler, Think Like A Man]
Rudin: “Ride-along. I bet he likes Kevin Hart.” [Ride-Along]
It’s safe to assume that Pascal and Rudin never intended for this exchange to see the light of day. And if there wasn’t any evidence that Sony’s racist assumptions about President Obama reflected their business policies, these jokes could be dismissed as distasteful but little more.
Of course, we now know that these racist attitudes do percolate into their business practices (see Exhibit A). And that’s where the cowardice comes into play.
These days, it is not fashionable to be known as a racist, but hardly the same can be said for harboring racist views. The key (as grand juries from Ferguson to Staten Island have recently reminded us) is to enforce racist ideas under the cover of non-racist theories. Very often, those who hold these opinions don’t realize that they’re being racist. Because the same obviously is not true for Pascal and Rudin, however, one has to feel more than a little disgust for their willingness to sound like Sterling in private and progressives in public.
I turn to Ralph Ellison’s review of An American Dilemma, the sociological classic by Swedish scholar Gunnar Myrdal on the psychological origins of racism in this country:
In our society it is not unusual for a Negro to experience a sensation that he does not exist in the real world at all. He seems, rather, to exist in the nightmarish fantasy of the white American mind as a phantom that the white mind seeks unceasingly, by means both crude and subtle, to lay to rest. Myrdal proves this no idle Negro fancy. He locates the Negro problem “in the heart of the [white] American … the conflict between his moral valuations on various levels of consciousness and generality.”
Hence where the word “cowardice” comes into play. Pascal and Rudin, though conscious of their own strain of racist ideology, like Sterling insist on keeping it under a veil except when confident that they will not be held accountable for their views.
For better or worse, the North Korean hackers have forced Sony executives—and hopefully other business elites throughout America—to recognize that the possibility of no accountability is rapidly evaporating. Again, the point must be emphasized that the main concern right now is their lack of accountability to the civil liberties that have allowed them to profit so handsomely within the paradigm of American culture. The fact that this is the paramount issue, however, cannot obscure that they should also be held accountable for how their words and deeds have perpetuated America’s uglier as well as nobler traditions.