As hip hop mogul Russell Simmons embarks on a journey to reinvent himself as a movie and TV producer, he says he has encountered an “incredible” amount of segregation in Hollywood during a time when integration in those media is needed the most.
As one of the wealthiest hip hop entrepreneurs of his time, it seems unlikely that Simmons would have any real obstacles to hurdle as he makes the transition into production.
As the seasoned businessman soon found out, however, racism in Hollywood would pose serious challenges not only for Simmons but for Black talent all across the board.
“The reality is the lack of integration is deafening,” Simmons told Variety on Wednesday. “The segregation in Hollywood is incredible.”
While racism in Hollywood has long been a topic of discussion and speculation in the Black community, recently more and more stars have been willing to expose the racial biases they encounter in the film and TV industry.
Simmons said that he has seen incredible amounts of prejudice in Hollywood and that the development process works to keep Black talent away from white talent.
For the Def Jam founder, it was a trend he just couldn’t wrap his mind around.
“I speak English,” he said. “Not only can I make Eddie Murphy cool again, I can make Jim Carrey cool again.”
Even the “progressives” of Hollywood don’t realize that they are falling short of their alleged mission to bring a diversity of voices and inclusion of all races to Hollywood, Simmons explained.
Instead of focusing on predominantly Black or white casts, Simmons said now is the time for Hollywood to become truly blended and reflect the reality of its viewership.
“There’s a lack of integration from a cultural standpoint,” he said. “…America wants to see Hollywood more integrated than ‘Jerry Springer.’ “
In order to do that, Simmons says the industry can’t be afraid of talking about race and it certainly can’t keep turning its back on culturally specific content.
“No one has even discussed race and politics as good as Norman Lear in 30 years,” he added.
“Hollywood should lead the way in healing,” he said. “Hollywood should not be afraid of the subject matter Norman Lear dealt with 35 years ago.”
Lear was the producer of such popular sitcoms as “All In the Family,” “Sanford and Son” and “The Jeffersons,” which all dealt with racial issues on an almost weekly basis.
Simmons is also hoping that undiscovered Black talent will kick down the doors to Hollywood if need be.
“I kind of blame Black people for not forcing their way in doors,” he said. “You have to take the initiative and push your way in the door too…Everybody has to take responsibility for the new incarnation of Hollywood.”
Simmons was in no way trying to undermine the excessive barriers to entry for Black people in Hollywood but he merely believed that the entire community has got to be adamant about demanding that their voice be heard in the media they so frequently consume.
For now, Simmons is currently working on a variety of projects including 11 movies and a rather intriguing HBO pilot.
The pilot, which stars comedian J.B. Smoove, is about a Black man with a “mysterious past who enters New York high society.”