It’s that time of year again! The Hollywood Reporter and its endless series of roundtable discussions with the stars of film and television about their experiences in Hollywood.
You’ll remember that things got a little weird last year, when their animation roundtable consisted of white men talking about diversity,(including Seth Rogen, who’s film Sausage Party, which he did not animate, was the subject of labor disputes) but this year’s are off to a good start. Of course Riz Ahmed had something to do with it.
This year’s Drama Actor Roundtable consists of Riz Ahmed, Ewan McGregor, Billy Bob Thornton, Sterling K. Brown, John Lithgow, and Jeffrey Wright (all of whom are potentially up for an Emmy nomination this year) discussing stereotypical roles they’ve avoided and how Donald Trump has changed the kinds of roles they’ve wanted to play.
After Ahmed, Lithgow, and Thornton talked roles that they have been pigeonholed into (“Terrorist No. 3,” “total wack job,” “jump on the table and spit and scream,” Southerner), the actors discussed how the political atmosphere has affected their work and how their work is helping to challenge the status quo of media.
Sterling K. Brown hit us with the:
You hope to be able to give people a break from certain things, but hopefully you can also educate and edify people at the same time. ..So, the more homogenized places in the country and in the world, [by watching shows like This Is Us] they’re having an opportunity to meet people for the first time. Hopefully through meeting people, the next time they encounter them, they see them as people.
Ahmed followed up with the:
I do believe it’s an artist’s responsibility to engage with the times we’re living in. But it’s a weird thing. Certain stories or certain storytellers are encumbered with the responsibility of being seen as political whether they like it or not
If it’s a point of view that you’re not used to hearing or seeing, it suddenly gets labeled as political and marginalized from the mainstream. [It’s sent to] the back of the DVD store with the subtitled films. But actually, what we think of as mainstream stories or stories that aren’t political are very political in their absence of interrogating the status quo.
Jeffrey Wright then posited Friends as an example, saying, “So when Friends shows a New York absent people of color, there’s politics in that…It validates their own isolation and leads to a misunderstanding of the complexity of who we are.”
I didn’t realize that I had been waiting all my life for Jeffrey Wright to give us the perfect takedown of the retroactively overhyped Friends, and yet here we are. Thank you Mr. Wright.