It’s undisputed that the goings-on on Sunday’s episode of HBO’s “Project Greenlight” were a mess. The reality show, a Matt Damon-Ben Affleck sponsored effort in which newbies compete for a chance to make a $3 million movie, has descended into racial controversy since Damon, in the season premiere, dismissed concerns about diversity in Hollywood as African American producer Effie Brown looked on with horror.
What about the episode was a “hot ghetto mess,” however, was unclear — yet, that was its title, sparking some hard questioning online.
Was the show implying that Brown, who continued to raise questions about diversity on the show, is a hot ghetto mess? That could be interpreted as at worst, racist. At best, it would be … well, it’s hard to imagine a “best.”
“Why was tonight’s show called ‘Hot Ghetto Mess’?” comedian W. Kamau Bell tweeted — and Brown retweeted. “Signed, Every Black Person Watching Tonight.”
The answer was unclear. But on Sunday’s episode, Brown had a lot of negative feedback about extras on the set of “The Leisure Class,” the project being filmed on the show, of which Brown seems a very, very reluctant producer.
“Was there any talk about racial make-up of the extras?” Brown asked as the crew prepped to shoot an elaborate wedding scene. “… I just want to make sure, just because there’s no black people, so I just was curious. I want to go on record: I will not have a black person in this movie as anything in some sort of servant position at all.”
She added: “This is a movie about the 1 percenters being made by the 99 percent. It’s about rich white people’s problems.”
Indeed, “The Leisure Class” isn’t exactly “Precious” or “12 Years a Slave.” It’s about, well, the leisure class — and a white man trying to marry into it.
Brown seemed resigned to the source material, and said she had worked hard to make the crew diverse. But: “What I will not have is stereotypical choices in casting,” she said.
So, when Brown learned that a black man — one of the few that appeared to be on camera — was to play a chauffeur, she was not thrilled. Indeed, she demanded a change.
“There are no people of color in this movie,” she said. “So when you do see someone of a non-dominant culture, they stand out. The only black person in the movie is not going to be a chauffeur.”
She added: “I have said on more than one occasion that I wasn’t going to have a person of color be in a subservient position supporting this 1 percent. A butler, a chauffeur — these are tropes that we have seen time and time again, and I think that those images are done. It’s time for us to tell a different narrative.”
Brown’s prescription was specific.
“So this is what’s going to happen now,” she said. “I want another person dressed up as a chauffeur, and I do not want it to be a black man.”
The change was made.
“I get it,” another (white) crew member said. “I understand it. I just don’t want to spend a lot of time on it. And there’s unneeded drama here.”
While one might wonder whether the word “drama” has a racial subtext here, it’s clear that Brown is miserable. On “Project Greenlight,” Brown, with a history of producing films featuring minority groups and women, appears to be the only person of color in a position of power. What is she doing here?
In an “Inside the Episode” featurette, she explained.
“I had to take this opportunity because I was going to be able to hire qualified people of color, women, and people who are underrepresented in this industry,” she said. “That’s why I did the television show.”