Writing for THR’s current issue, the ‘Top Five’ writer, director and star tackles Hollywood’s third rail as he explains what it’s really like to be black in the entertainment industry (hint: you get asked to be Huggy Bear, not Starsky or Hutch) and the “slave state” of Mexicans: “If Kevin Hart is playing 40,000 seats a night, and Jon Stewart is playing 3,000 … why does Kevin Hart have to cross over?”
I was probably 19 when I first came to Hollywood. Eddie Murphy brought me out to do Beverly Hills Cop II and he had a deal at Paramount, so I remember going through the gates of the Paramount lot. He’s in a Rolls-Royce, and he’s not just a star, he’s the biggest star in the world. Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer’s office was in the same building as Eddie’s office, and they would come to work every day with matching cars. Some days it would be the Porsches, and the next day it would be Ferraris. I was like the kid in A Bronx Tale. I got to just hang around when the biggest parts of show business were happening. I was only there a couple of weeks, but I remember every day Jeffrey Katzenberg would call Eddie Murphy — I don’t even know if Eddie was calling him back — but it was like, “Jeffrey Katzenberg called again.” “Janet Jackson just called.” “Michael Jackson called.” It was that crazy. I’ve still never seen anything like it. I had a small part in the movie, but my dream was bigger than that. I wanted to have a convertible Rolls-Royce with a fine girl driving down Melrose blasting Prince.
Now I’m not Murphy, but I’ve done fine. And I try to help young black guys coming up because those people took chances on me. Eddie didn’t have to put me in Beverly Hills Cop II. Keenen Wayans didn’t have to put me in I’m Gonna Git You Sucka. Arsenio didn’t have to let me on his show. I’d do the same for a young white guy, but here’s the difference: Someone’s going to help the white guy. Multiple people will. The people whom I’ve tried to help, I’m not sure anybody was going to help them.
And I have a decent batting average. I still remember people thinking I was crazy for hiring Wanda Sykes on my old HBO show. I recommended J.B. Smoove for Saturday Night Live, and I just helped Leslie Jones get on that show. She’s about as funny as a human being can be, but she didn’t go to Second City, she doesn’t do stand-up at The Cellar and she’s not in with Judd Apatow, so how the hell was she ever going to get through unless somebody like me says to Lorne Michaels, “Hey, look at this person”? I saw her at a comedy club four or five years ago, and I wrote her name down in my phone. I probably called four managers — the biggest managers in comedy — to manage her, and all of them said no. They didn’t get it. They didn’t get it until Lorne said yes a few years later, and then it was too late.
Some of these younger black guys just want me to see their act. Some come to me for advice. Hannibal Buress called the other day. They want to know about agents and managers and the business; this kind of deal and that kind of deal; dealing with the media and dealing with family; money crap and where they should live. It’s big brother shit, and they ask because there aren’t that many black people to turn to. Who do you hire? Where’s the big black PR agency? Where are the big black agents? Where’s the big black film producer? That’s why I’ve been all over Steve McQueen. I put a microchip in Steve’s pocket and track him like an Uber driver. Steve thinks we keep bumping into each other by accident. “Hey, Steve, my man!” I don’t care if I have to play a whip, I’m going to be in a Steve McQueen movie. But I digress.
It’s a white industry. Just as the NBA is a black industry. I’m not even saying it’s a bad thing. It just is. And the black people they do hire tend to be the same person. That person tends to be female and that person tends to be Ivy League. And there’s nothing wrong with that. As a matter of fact, that’s what I want for my daughters. But something tells me that the life my privileged daughters are leading right now might not make them the best candidates to run the black division of anything. And the person who runs the black division of a studio should probably have worked with black people at some point in their life. Clint Culpepper [a white studio chief who specializes in black movies] does a good job at Screen Gems because he’s the kind of guy who would actually go see Best Man Holiday. But how many black men have you met working in Hollywood? They don’t really hire black men. A black man with bass in his voice and maybe a little hint of facial hair? Not going to happen. It is what it is. I’m a guy who’s accepted it all.
We cut it out in Top Five, but there had been a scene where Kevin Hart, who plays my character’s agent, is in his office talking to me, and he finds out that “Zoolander” (Ben Stiller) is down the hall and he’s mad because none of the agents called him. He’s the only black agent at the agency, and there was a line in the movie like, “I’m the only black agent here. They never invite me to anything, and these people are liberals. This isn’t the Klan.”
But forget whether Hollywood is black enough. A better question is: Is Hollywood Mexican enough? You’re in L.A, you’ve got to try not to hire Mexicans. It’s the most liberal town in the world, and there’s a part of it that’s kind of racist — not racist like “F— you, nigger” racist, but just an acceptance that there’s a slave state in L.A. There’s this acceptance that Mexicans are going to take care of white people in L.A. that doesn’t exist anywhere else. I remember I was renting a house in Beverly Park while doing some movie, and you just see all of the Mexican people at 8 o’clock in the morning in a line driving into Beverly Park like it’s General Motors. It’s this weird town.
You’re telling me no Mexicans are qualified to do anything at a studio? Really? Nothing but mop up? What are the odds that that’s true? The odds are, because people are people, that there’s probably a Mexican David Geffen mopping up for somebody’s company right now. The odds are that there’s probably a Mexican who’s that smart who’s never going to be given a shot. And it’s not about being given a shot to greenlight a movie because nobody is going to give you that — you’ve got to take that. The shot is that a Mexican guy or a black guy is qualified to go and give his opinion about how loud the boings are in Dodgeball or whether it’s the right shit sound you hear when Jeff Daniels is on the toilet in Dumb and Dumber. It’s like, “We only let white people do that.” This is a system where only white people can chime in on that. There would be a little naivete to sitting around and going, “Oh, no black person has ever greenlighted a movie,” but those other jobs? You’re kidding me, right? They don’t even require education. When you’re on the lower levels, they’re just about taste, nothing else. And you don’t have to go to Harvard to have taste.
Click here to read more.
SOURCE: The Hollywood Reporter