Michael B. Jordan’s interview with GQ magazine gives a prime example of the kind of well-intentioned, young black person who seems to think that it’s black people who are unnecessarily obsessed with race, and that everyone else is trying to get on with their lives and move the ball forward on race relations.
After he portrayed real-life Oscar Grant in Fruitvale Station, he spoke about how he wanted to make sure he wasn’t pigeonholed as a black actor who only does stories about black experiences.
“The first time I sat down with multiple agents at the agency, I told them […] ‘Understand the situation that I’m in and the opportunities that are presented in front of me and the expectations that come with doing a film like Fruitvale Station moving forward,’” Jordan recalled. He cautioned his agents to be mindful of how he’d be perceived as a result of playing Grant.
"You know, for my community, the African-American community, there was a certain expectation. You do a role that represents African Americans, of Oscar Grant being wrongfully accused, wrongfully killed by the police […] a certain expectation comes with it to be the one to speak out,” Jordan explained.
There’s nothing wrong with that, because he has a point. Up until that point in his career, Jordan was still Wallace in everyone’s eyes (the young Baltimore kid he played in The Wire), and then he did such a wonderful job in Fruitvale Station. Both projects were about black boys and men tending to the injustices they faced in working-class communities.
But in Jordan’s attempt to communicate how he wanted to expand his horizons, he unknowingly supported the idea that Hollywood is at fault because it only creates black roles when it wants to tell a social-justice story. Whereas white roles are far more creative and span the spectrum of what a film might be about.
In fact, Jordan came out and basically suggested that outright.
“I told my team after I finished Chronicle that I only want to go out for roles that were written for white characters,” Jordan said. I wonder if he realizes that his preference suggests that Hollywood is very open-minded when it comes to white roles and the stories white actors can tell.
“I want to be part of that movement that blurs the line between white and black,” he said.
Oh, and he went on to reference the careers of two white actors—Leonardo DiCaprio and Ryan Gosling—and applauded them for how they’ve been able to craft post-racial careers.
“They made smart choices,” he says. “They played people, not being ‘a white actor playing a person,’ [but] them playing a person. When I play a person or profession, it’s black this, black that. It’s obvious that I’m black, but why do I have to be labeled as that?”
I don’t know if he’s asking black people, viewers overall or Hollywood itself.
“Instead of taking something conceptually written for a black guy, I want the stuff that was written for a guy,” Jordan said.
I hope he comes to understand that the fact that he wasn’t able to find black careers that he wants to emulate—that is, black actors who were able to have post-racial careers—is not a condemnation of the efforts of the black actors, but of a Hollywood system that perhaps refuses to be post-racial itself. A system that won’t allow black actors to be post-racial? But I’m sure he’ll figure that out soon enough.
Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is a staff writer at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beats, a Web series that features video interviews with scarily insightful people. Follow Lectures to Beats on Facebook and Twitter.