Mr. Hoch Goes to Hollywood
Anyway, Darnell and I spent a year working on the project, which was called Point Blank. ABC promised to shoot it that season. But just before the green-light decisions were made, we were told that there were too many nonwhite central characters. That although the creative people at the network liked it, the bosses up top who were selling ad time thought it was "too specific."
ABC is not the only studio guilty of this "too specific" shit. The list of offenders turning down pitches and ideas specifically because they are "too specific" reads like a who's who of Hollywood. Paramount, NBC, CBS, Warner Brothers, Universal, New Line, Miramax--even publishers from Bantam to Grove think like this. I was told by a supposedly progressive thirty-something editor, "People who read don't want to read that stuff." "America is mostly white people, Danny, and they don't wanna watch that," a former executive at Paramount told me once. It's got to be a conspiracy.
Well, if America is mostly white people (whatever that means), then, I thought, maybe I could infiltrate their bizarre formula by making a film with a white central character. My friend G. Belcon and I spent two years writing Whiteboys, a tragicomedy about a white kid in Iowa named Flip-Dogg, who is obsessed with gangsta rap music and gets all his images of African-Americans from TV, like most people around the world do. His obsession is so great that he wants to be black, or at least his TV definition of "black." I was shocked to find out that Fox Searchlight, Fox's subsidiary and so-called indie distributor, was going to finance it at a budget of $5 million.
I remember asking the executives at Searchlight if Rupert Murdoch's conservative politics would affect the way our film was treated. After all, the film is not candy-coated. It asks some deep questions about identity and the media. The executive, Lindsay Law (what a great name), assured me that the budget was so small "it won't even cause a blip on the radar at Fox," and we could do whatever we wanted and we'd have their unconditional support. I should have smelled the bullshit flying out of Lindsay Law's mouth, but we were on the phone. A few months later, the film actually got made. But Searchlight kept stalling the release, saying that it had poor exit polls, that they couldn't tell if it was a comedy or tragedy (oh no!), that they didn't know how to market it. If you don't know how to market a film in 1999 about a white kid in Iowa obsessed with hip-hop, then you shouldn't be in the film business, should you?
Ultimately the truth surfaced by pure serendipity. A journalist friend of mine was flying first class from LA to New York and happened to sit next to someone from Fox's parent company, NewsCorp, who had a copy of Whiteboys under his arm as he sat down. Newscorp supposedly never meddles in Fox's film divisions. My friend naïvely asked him about the film and why he had the script--at which point an entire menu of Fox's censorship practices was revealed. Although Whiteboys wasn't violent by Hollywood standards, it contained scenes with white youth and violence in the same scene, and it was being reviewed by the NewsCorp folks to determine whether the film might garner protest, in the wake of the mass shooting in Littleton, Colorado. In addition, there was concern that white communities would be offended by the youth portrayed in the film. Hollywood never seems to question whether it offends black Americans by mocking them, or Latin Americans by clowning them, or Asian or Native Americans by ignoring them. But how dare we offend white Americans. What a crime that would be.
Ultimately we missed our scheduled summer release, and although Fox had to release the film contractually, they did it under such cover that not even my family or friends knew when or where it was playing--and we live in New York City! Fox then used "poor box office" to justify its closure, and that's that. They might as well have shelved it, but then they would have gotten sued. Well, they're getting sued anyway, so fuck 'em.