Did you know that there’s only one speaking role for a Black person in Disney’s Maleficent, and the actor only speaks for a total of 11 seconds? Did you realize that there is only about 45 seconds of screen time for actors of color in the Oscar-nominated film American Hustle, and only eight seconds of it involves a Black person speaking — two Black people, to be exact.
Minority actors are given roles with so little depth that their lines and screen time amount to .30 percent of the film. Notice the decimal point before the three.
It’s not as though this is news in the movie business when it comes to mainstream films, but evidence of the minute representation given to people of color has never been more gripping than the Every Single Word campaign started by Dylan Marron, a young Venezuelan-American actor, playwright and filmmaker. Every Single Word is a Tumblr blog and series of videos in which Marron has edited out all the lines from Caucasian actors in mainstream films, leaving only the lines spoken by people of color to illustrate just how little the latter actually get to say.
“People of color” includes Black, Latino, Asian and Indian actors. The project was created after Marron was consistently told by agents that there wouldn’t be much acting work for someone like him. Interestingly, while Marron is also gay, he told The Washington Post in a recent interview, “I find the big road block is being a person of color.” In an effort to understand why there is so little work for people like him, Marron set to work on his edits.
He chooses films that are an hour or longer in length and that all have one thing in common: they are not about whiteness. The 27-year-old told The Washington Post that the movies he has chosen to edit “are not about white people. They are not about the experience of being white and they are not historical dramas that are just about white people. They’re not about whiteness. They are about really universal and very human themes.”
With that in mind, Marron then explained his big picture. “So my question with these videos is why are we using white people to tell these universal stories? And what is that saying? I think it’s saying something really dangerous…what it tells you is you don’t really have a place in this world. And this is your place. Your place are these specific speaking roles and you’re mostly credited as your job, like ‘busdriver’ or ‘waitress no. 2’ or ‘hostess’.”
Marron credits Black writers and filmmakers Shonda Rhimes and Lee Daniels for bringing universal stories to life with diverse casts on television, but says even they are the exception and not the rule. He calls for more storytellers like Rhimes and Daniels in both television and film.
While he has received high praise for his work, Marron’s Every Single Word project has come under some scrutiny from YouTubers who feel his edits are biased. Commenters have questioned why he doesn’t do the same sort of cuts for white people in Black films like The Best Man Holiday — similar to the way people ask why there is no White Entertainment Television in response to BET. Marron typically doesn’t address such comments, but offered the explanation that Best Man Holiday is a Black movie — a niche film geared toward the Black audience while the films he edits are viewed as “normal” movies that are for “everybody,” and yet only have white casts. He asserted further that “BET has to exist because everything else is White Entertainment Television.”
Renowned communications professor and researcher George Gerbner once stated, “Representation in the fictional world signifies social existence; absence means symbolic annihilation.”
In 2015, when more people in the United States come from a multicultural background than ever before and there is a Black man seated as the leader of the country, to continue perpetuating the myth that “white is mainstream,” is damaging to the identities of minorities, especially Black men and women who are constantly bombarded with images of cultural appropriation, police brutality and unequal application of the law.
It says that Black achievements aren’t good enough. It says that Black people can contribute to society but can never be seen as an important part of it. It says that the Black man’s place is to be subordinate to all others. Worse, it says they don’t exist, and that idea will be hammered home every time they watch a “mainstream” movie. It creates misconceptions and impediments to interaction with other groups of people. It’s the institutional, or as Marron puts it, the “systemic” subjugation of people of color that at this point isn’t the goal of the Hollywood movie business today, but rather the result of practices that were rooted in the industry since its establishment. “I’m not saying that any of these films are racist. I’m not saying that any of these filmmakers are racist. I’m saying that the system that they’re contributing has some deeply racist practices,” he said.
Marron’s desire with his Every Single Word project is to start a conversation without ranting about the injustices of the film industry because he believes that is the best way to make an impact. “Showing patterns and showing them without embellishment, without comment and just placing them on the table is so much more effective than yelling about the problem,” the actor said.
The project certainly speaks for itself. Watching Marron’s edits of over 20 films so far leaves viewers in disbelief that diversity representation is so scant. Noah, The Fault in Our Stars, Harry Potter, Maleficent, Midnight in Paris, and American Hustle are among the films Marron has edited to mere seconds. His edit of Disney’s Into the Woods is a black screen and silence. The entire Lord of the Rings trilogy has just 32 seconds of speaking by a person of color, and they’re all dressed as creatures. Why? Certainly, an epic fantasy adventure film about elves, hobbits and orcs is not beholden to historical accuracy. And if these films are beholden to accuracy, why, then, doesn’t Noah feature an entirely ethnic cast instead of an all-white one?
Check out some of the Every Single Word supercuts below.