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Why is Hollywood so white? | Colin Stokes | TEDxBeaconStreet

Translator: Katerina Tolkova
Reviewer: Ellen Maloney You are the Chosen One! That’s right, you, yeah. No, not the person
sitting next to you, sorry. Actually you know what, you are too. You know, everybody in this room,
is the Chosen One, the one that the prophecy foretold. And I’m here to call you
on an adventure to a new world. Yeah, you’re going to have
a lot of great adventures, and they’re going to last
about an hour and a half. And then you’re going to face
your nemesis, alone. He’s going to have a British accent
and a tragic back story. (Laughter) And I’m going to call on you to summon all of your star power and special effects to defeat evil and set up the sequel. Well, this is the message
that I got from the multiplex, throughout the 80s when I was growing up. I don’t know about you,
but I was intrigued. And then my English teacher
showed a video of this guy, Joseph Campbell. He’s the mythology guru, and he had a lot of books behind him, and he showed clips from Star Wars, and he talked about “The Hero’s Journey.” And I thought it was just
spaceships and dragons; no, there was a diagram. I took notes. I clearly possessed
all of the necessary characteristics to be a universal hero. I made wise cracks, I was often bored and whiny. I had special knowledge and skills
that nobody else understood. I was already in the middle
of one the milestones, the belly of the whale, also known as middle school. (Laughter) And I also, though I didn’t realize
how important this was at the time, had some other things going for me: I was white, and male,
and straight, and able-bodied, just like everyone
that I saw in the movies. Yeah, I could easily imagine myself doing
all the things that the movie heroes did, especially with all the hair I had then. (Laughter) Now, spoiler alert, I did not defeat evil. I don’t have a nemesis that I know of. I no longer have hair. (Laughter) But I did go on a journey
of some significance about nine years ago. I crossed a threshold
into a strange new world. And many of you may be on this quest too: It’s called parenthood. Now, my rudimentary Joseph Campbell training had totally not prepared me
for this plot twist. I don’t remember a single hero journey
about changing diapers. (Laughter) And… In fact, I had to give up everything
that the movies taught me to care about: my goals, my hygiene, in order to pay attention
to these other characters, these small people and their journeys. That is the strangest thing
about this hero journey to me, this quest; I am not
the protagonist at all. At the very best, I’m like Obi-Wan Kenobi, dispensing advice before they go off
on their spaceship. And before too long,
I’ll be the backstory. I am off the diagram. (Laughter) And out here, I am realizing that I took the hero’s journey
a little too literally. I think I thought that other people
would be archetypes, and they served their purpose in my story, and then get off the screen. I don’t think I was training to be a hero as much as I was training
to be a narcissist. (Laughter) For instance, all through my adolescence, I’ve focused a lot on the part of the quest where I should find a female classmate
in need of rescuing. (Laughter) The problem was, all the damsels
that I knew were functioning pretty well. I didn’t know what to offer them. I spent a lot of 7th grade
holding the door open for girls, John William’s music playing in my head. Then it all changed. Because in college, a woman pursued me. Great, right? Except I was confused. (Laughter) I am the Chosen One. How can I also be a prize
in somebody else’s journey? I was evidently
a pretty disappointing one, while I tried to figure out what role I could play in her many heroic quests. But I’m happy to say it’s been
20 years since that day, and we have established
a successful franchise. (Laughter) In fact we went on the quest
of parenthood together. And our favorite thing to do
when we can get a sitter, is go to the movies. Now, this year, we have seen a lot
of amazing hero journeys, some of them based on real life, that are very different
from the ones that I saw growing up. And they have had a big impact
in my relationship to the hero’s journey. This year, we rooted for Jackie Robinson, we went on a quest with Solomon Northup, we identified with
the journey of Oscar Grant, and Cecil Gaines and his family. It is an unusual sensation for me to see stories where the white guys
are not the protagonists. I’ve gotten used to being demoted
from hero to love interest, and even further to dad. But I am not used to being the antagonist. I think this is a big deal. I think if you are a white male, you are shown a lot of images
throughout your life that tell you you’re the good guy. Even in movies where the plot
is explicitly about how many lousy things
white people have done in history, a white person somehow
gets in the middle there, and goes on a journey of redemption. And sometimes a white girl
does the same thing. And this… (Laughter) Yeah. [White people solve racism] This sinks in, and it shapes our lives. Did you read the study this year that said that TV watching
raises kids self-esteem if you’re a white boy? If you’re a white girl or a black child, your self-esteem is gonna go down. I can imagine why. You’re not gonna see yourself
taking many hero journeys. In 2012, how many US movie ticket buyers
were non-white? 44 per cent. When those 44 per cent
went to the movie theater, they chose from a line-up of movies in which how many
of the speaking characters were white? 76. Of the top 100 movies of all time, how many do you think starred
heroes who were not white? Eight, by my count. And five of them were Will Smith. (Laughter) Now, I don’t know what this is like, I don’t know what it’s like
to be excluded from stories because I see myself reflected everywhere. I have been taught
that I can feel important. Good for me! But I do have a track-record
of narcissism, and I know that there is a small step
from “I am important” to “people like me are important.” I’ve been fascinated
by this research into bias. We judge instantly by a name on a resume, or a piece of clothing. Is this a person like me, or not? Is this person qualified for this job? Are they going to be a fit? Do they belong in this fancy
department store? Should I be afraid of them? We learn this stuff really early. And these biases add up to a whole lot of people excluded
from all kinds of journeys, a whole lot of people off the diagram. Not getting speaking roles
in pivotal scenes. Like corporate board rooms, and jury boxes, and the halls of our democracy, news rooms where we choose
what stories we’re going to share, the executive suites in Hollywood. That’s why it’s so amazing that these movies
have been made this year. These artists and all of the people
who supported their production are amplifying some of those voices. And when white people like me
go to “Twelve Years a Slave” and “The Butler,” we might feel excluded. We might even feel antagonized. That’s probably a good thing. At least, it has been for me. It’s one of those moments where I’ve been jolted off
the monomyth into real life. Where I’ve had to
protagonize someone else, and ease up a little on the heroism, and grow up. And this might be the real message
of Joseph Campbell: That you might face your nemesis alone, and he might have a British accent. But usually, we’re all supporting actors in all the stories going on around us. And sometimes, we’re the bad guy. This is what I urgently
want to teach my little protagonists before they take off
on the spaceship to Planet Bias. Protagonize everyone you meet. Especially those people
you’ve been taught to ignore. Ask yourself, always, what role are you playing in their story? Because that way, every relationship is a call to adventure, on the threshold
to a new and better world. Thank you. (Applause)


  1. dominicwarrenable Author

    I love this guy's look and attitude to individual lives! I think he's right about everything, one thing I would like to see is the stats of how many black actors there are and how many of those apply to play those big budget films? There is a big difference in culture and that doesn't excuse the facts of what Colin has said for 1 second because I think that difference in culture has come from the cause and it's one big circle. And that mustn't be forgotten. If anything it must be developed to create a change.

  2. scourgicus Author

    Respectfully, I think Mr. Stokes is misunderstanding Campbell's Hero's Journey.  The mythic journey is a metaphor for finding solutions outside our normal, everyday life.  It's about transformation, transcendence, and purgation.  And he is within the Hero circle – he's the Helper, which is pretty darn important.

  3. Rilo DeAnn Author

    joseph Campbell says the conclusion of hero's journey is when the hero sacrifices himself for something greater than or beyond their own self.

  4. Peace of Pi Author

    "Protagonize everyone you meet." "Ask yourself what role you play in their stories" That is incredibly deep. I think I'll add that to my philosophy.

  5. Roger Fernandes Author

    The book, "The Hero Within" by Carol Pearson does a better job of humanizing the Hero's Journey, in my opinion. Campbell's work is pretty dense, more academic in many ways. In her transformation flow, there is a archetype called The Caretaker, the phase of the journey where the Hero learns to care more for others than he/she cares for him/herself. This is right in the middle of her description of the journey and thus is pivotal. If you don't care for anyone more than yourself, why would you risk your life to transform? What Stokes is describing here is that phase

  6. Tim Zambra Author

    If you've had children, unfortunately the hero's journey is denied you until next lifetime. Which is why the Hobbits can guffaw with the alpha hobbit so complacently.   That spark you saw in each other's eyes when you fell in love, you gave to your children.  That spark is the seed of the hero's journey.  It is so perilous a journey that most refuse, and follow a perception of their parents' journey instead.  What happens when we stop being protagonists?  You stop being an individual.  He's just trying to salve your guilt that you gave up your individuality for homogeneity. 

  7. Solus Author

    bias and discriminating is a part of the natural condition of being a person, it keeps you alive
    better trust your gut when its giving you a strong signal… you will only make the worst mistake "once"

  8. Rubashow Author

    Okay. So when you watch an NBA-game as a white kid it must be horrible for you. Watching the sports landscapes give young white kids the feeling that they never achieve something in athletics. We also have to do something about race-parity in Hip Hop…

    BTW: The Butler and 12 years a slave were awesome. It took me a TEDx talk to figure out that the black guy being the lead should raisde my eyebrown.

  9. spiderpony6 Author

    The Hero's Journey is a metaphorical one in which we are both protagonist, AND antagonist. No one is excluded from their own interior tale, no matter how great their obstacles. It's a way of looking at the construct of our lives in poetic terms. If we feel a film, or a book, or a piece of art doesn't represent us well enough to inspire, then it is up to us to create a language and representation that does. That's why the same story is reconfigured so many times. Campbell studied comparative mythology—meaning, he compared  the myths of many cultures—not just our own—and found similarities. To understand The Hero's Journey as something narcissistic, is to miss the point entirely; because, according to Campbell, the hero must give himself over to something greater than himself (In this speakers case, perhaps it's fatherhood; though it may be something else for someone else.)  Then, at the end of the journey the hero returns to the world (perhaps to give Ted talks),  as a slightly more conscious human. Simply put, The Hero's Journey is just the framework from which we may gain insight into own lives.

  10. AffyisAffy Author

    I feel like this guy tried to cover too much ground in his talk and inadvertently trampled all over Campbell in the process. Campbell was not trying to convince people that they are the all-important hero, rather, that we all are taking the hero's journey, some more successfully than others, and that we should try to be in tune with our own. The race issues are more tied with hollywood or mainstream media. The templates Campbell focused on, are extremely flexible, and according to him, rooted in any form of artistic expression. Good talk, just seemed like maybe he needed more time to tie his ideas together into a more cohesive point.

  11. Scott Long Author

    The idea he seems to advance is that the hero's journey is a male, white, etc. centric structure that enables sinners to redeem themselves in their own imaginations. Campbell's research and material had such a global reach that I find it hard to buy this: the myths he draws on to demonstrate his messages derive from africa, native america, and india as much if not more than they derive from western societies, let alone Hollywood. If he referred to modern american cinema to demonstrate the relevance of his theory, and all the characters are white male, I think the fault lies with American film makers, and American society, more than Campbell. The truly condescending point made in this video is that a black movie goer can't see Luke Skywalker and identify or at least be enraptured by what he sees. He assumes that if you're a minority, you will feel antagonized by Star Wars. Perhaps there are intellectually mature women and racial minorities who can go to the movies and see beyond false distinctions, and succeed where this fellow has failed. 

  12. James Martin Author

    I think he is saying more about what Hollywood (particularly the big budget, hero movie) has done with Joseph Campbell, than saying anything negative about Campbell's mythological studies.

  13. djcurl Author

    These words got me (I've also seen the previous video) because I've been on the same journey, now with kids (daughter and younger son). I can notice I was starting to feel a little annoyed to see the raise of female protagonists on kid's movies, but now, this gives me another perspective, which I'll think about. Thanks!

  14. karanseraph Author

    The title's a little misleading. The issue is not so much with the Hero's Journey or Mythic Structure itself as with Hollywood interpretation and use of the structure.

  15. Joe DeMarco Author

    Not every hero's journey has to be epic… the world is forged through the "small" but equally important stories. The epic ones are just the ones that are more vocal, and boisterous, but they are no more important than that of being a parent. For those who don't feel the call to be a parent, then your hero's journey is to be the best person you can be and make the world around you a better place. Upon doing this, you are a part of the greater story. The story of the human race. 

  16. Carmine0077 Author

    the guy was looking for some attention, and he simply got it 🙂 
    Campbell's work is not so banal and shallow as he would like to make us think. 

  17. Lifelong Reading Author

    Ultimately, blacks are happy to see a movie starring Tom Hanks or Merril Streep because they want to see that person act, not because of the color of their skin. That attitude will put blacks ahead of whites in the coming years. Blacks should just choose the movies that interest them the most. And black actors should emulate the best actors alive so that in the future they can be the center of attention.

  18. Grokford Author

    Your entire argument, your entire concern is because you seem to judge all other people by your admittedly narcissistic standards. If you identify with people or you can't identify with people on the basis of race the issues are your own and no one else's.

  19. BossBeardMan Author

    This guy is a moron. Black people are not that special, they are just human and under evolved at that. 

    If blacks want to do something special then they should try, it shouldn't' be white mans responsibility to raise blacks like pets. 

  20. Ebony B Author

    I see what he is saying but he honestly sounds like another cry baby white man that wants sympathy for having more opportunities in life. We know that the white man is portrayed as the hero constantly. That is only to make him feel better about his history that is covered in the blood of minorities. Yeah lets play the hero so we can make ourselves believe we are the hero. Blacks see movies because its entertaining. We know its all lies. Thats why we receive black history in the household. 

  21. ShadowFoxRogueHunter Author

    It seems this guy is on a crusade to try and find flaws in movies that only he sees, that most people do not care about. For example, i am white, yet i find i relate more to black protagonists because in my life i have often been oppressed and criticized by people for being different. i have found it a rare thing that white protagonists suffer in such a way

  22. Javonne Winston Author

    This guy is good. He makes some fine points about the plight of Black actors (and people of color in general) and how we're marginalized in cinema- and ultimately everywhere else- because of the status quo…good points The comments however…wow. This isn't a condemnation or confirmation of white oppression and white guilt respectively. he's basically just saying-everyone has a journey, let's be aware of that as we go on in our lives and not marginalize people because they look different from the standard. Excellent talk.

  23. Colin Author

    If we are truly equal in this country why can't I look up to Will Smith, or to Jackie Robinson and see myself as the protagonist or a african american boy look up to Mark Wahlberg or Tom Brady and see himself as them. WE ARE ALL EQUAL, therefore anyone can be the protagonist in any story they want. The media lately has been pinning white and black against each other. its petty. To make me think that I'm the antagonist in the story line just because the lead actor are black is a very narrow minded way of looking at it. If this nation truly is equal as we claim to be stop treating us like we're two different species. 

  24. J.C. Henry Author

    It is interesting to read comments about these subjects. People type anonymously what they fear to say out loud.  You may look at my avatar and say I am just as guilty, so I will admit that I am Black Woman living this world.  It would be great to live in a racial and gender bias free world.  Unfortunately this is not the world we live in.  I try to be bias free but I find myself guilty of that offense on occasion just like many other people.  However the first part of fixing a problem is realizing that there is a problem.  These eleven+ minutes is just an acknowledgement of the issues for generations.

  25. My52PickUp Author

    This is the second Colin Stokes video I've watched and he really has a great way of making powerful points without making you feel you've been hit on the head with an axe.Which makes a much more lasting impression. I recommend to everyone to check out him out.

  26. Kev Cyberpunk Author

    Sometimes we're the bad guys? This guy can go self hate on his own time but there's no point in bringing the rest of us down with him. If I can go watch 12 Years a Slave as a white guy and empathize with the protagonist, even going as far as to find qualities in him I'd like in myself, then people of other races can do the same for white protagonists and guess what? They do.

    The truth is Hollywood is American and America is still a primarily white country so of course you'll be seeing white characters because most movies come from here. That's only a matter of statistics. Otherwise if someone wants to make a movie with a character of a minority race in the lead they can, especially in this day and age and there's no doubt that it'll get attention.

    But, like I said before, I can empathize with any hero, regardless of race, sex, etc. and there are plenty of others out there who can do the same. Just because this guy is pretending to lack the ability to do so does not give him permission to say all others can't either. Empathy is a human trait, any sane-minded individual is capable of feeling it.

  27. Stablemable2 Author

    The Black Panther Movie is due 2018…..right after the 2nd Spiderman reboot and the next White US president.
    Hollywood is guilty of White-male worship too because if those iconic movie characters were non-white they would never be considered iconic to most Whites.
    Notice how "reboots" have been White only films too.

  28. Brian Chandler Author

    Why is most of the NBA black? Because they excel at basketball. Most of Hollywood is white because they excel at acting. It's not racism.

  29. BlizzPort Author

    Ok, make sure that half of our troops are filled with blacks as well. I'm not sure if you're gonna find that many blacks in the predominantly white country, but recruit them all and hopefully we'll get to a more equal number.

    Otherwise, stop bitching.

  30. Masterman485 Author

    Why is Bollywood, tollywood and Mollywood full of brown people? Why is the Chinese film industry filmed with Chinese people?

  31. Daniel Embree Author

    "Why is Bollywood mostly Indian?" Because Indians are the majority of the population. Why is Hollywood mostly white? Because that's the majority of the population.

  32. Piano Dabbler Author

    He didn’t answer the question “Why is Hollywood so white.” I think it’s because of biased white guys who don’t want to include people of color especially Asian Americans, Latino Americans, and Native Americans.

  33. LAST ZODIAC Author

    White boy has too much compassion and empathy to be a actual narcissist but I do believe every white man has narcissistic personalities!

  34. RudeBoySes Author

    as a non-White man, thank you. i've thrown out my TV years ago. mainly because of State Dept propaganda, but this issue was prevalent during my teens but was unable to express it.

  35. Wilhelm Author

    Hollywood often tells openly to the people that it's jewish……
    I don't know, are they white people acting to be jews or just jews acting to be white?


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