HBO’s ‘Project Greenlight’ Makes Another Racial Blunder with Episode Titled, ‘Hot Ghetto Mess’

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HBO’s Project Greenlight revival hasn’t exactly been a walk in the park this season.  Coming on the heels of Matt Damon’s infamous, “When you’re talking about diversity, you do it in the casting of the film, not the casting of the show” comment, many viewers saw last Sunday’s episode—titled “Hot Ghetto Mess”— as yet another racial fail.  As the Hollywood Reporter points out, the title of this episode, and all Project Greenlight episode titles, comes from a line of dialogue spoken by someone during the episode.

According to Magical Elves, the production company behind Project Greenlight, Black producer Effie Brown (Dear White People) uttered the words in response to the decisions director Jason Mann was making during production.  Brown voiced her disapproval over Black extra’s being cast as butlers and chauffeurs during a wedding, even insisting that one Black chauffeur be replaced by a white one.  The scene in which she said these words was later deleted during post production.

Magical Elves released a statement about the title controversy.

“Though it may not be obvious, the majority of Project Greenlight titles come from a line spoken inside the episode.  An earlier cut of the one that aired Sunday included another chaotic day on set resulting in the remark ‘this is a hot ghetto mess.’  In a scramble of last minute edits and changes, however, that scene was removed.  The episode was then renamed the ‘The Pivot’ but the change was not reflected on the delivered master.  It was a production mistake for which we take full responsibility.  HBO is taking steps to correct the title across its platforms.”

While this is understandable and last minute changes happen all the time, it still doesn’t explain the lack of foreknowledge of how an episode, even with a working title of “Hot Ghetto Mess,” would be perceived by any thinking person.  It shouldn’t have been a working title in the first place. Anything with a majority white creative team that has “ghetto” in the title at any stage of production is begging to be ridiculed.  It’s like driving on the shoulder during a traffic jam, and being surprised the police pull you over—it’s only a good idea when it goes unnoticed.

HBO has said it will change the title of the episode on all platforms but this continues to hurt the Project Greenlight brand.  It’s a shame because Project Greenlight is a great idea overall, and could help both Black and white directors if used in a correct manner.

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