The Hidden Truth Behind "Hidden Fences" & White Privilege In Hollywood

Photo: Venturelli/Getty Images.
The internet has been having a field day with the “Hidden Fences” flubs by both Jenna Bush Hager and Michael Keaton at the Golden Globes.

The celebrities managed to mix up the two movies with mostly Black casts and producers — Fences and Hidden Figures. Black Twitter and Instagram, online spaces that are masterfully quick and witty, have already created promotional materials for this non-existent film and unleashed a slew of other made up movies made for and by Black folks.

But for all of its comedic gold, the funny commentary around “Hidden Fences” is actually one example of Black Twitter digitally immortalizing the practice of laughing to keep from crying. Make no mistake about it, there is really nothing funny about the fact that two very different Black films are so easily reduced to unidentifiable versions of the same thing. This kind of microaggression is an erasure. It reveals the real reason diversity seems to be so painstaking for Hollywood — unrelenting white privilege.

Tonight, it showed up in the little details. John Legend’s name was spelled wrong on his name tag. When announcing the nominees for best director, presenters stumbled over the order when they got to Moonlight. Ryan Seacrest asked Viola Davis how she memorized all her lines in Fences, a trivial question to ask an actress of her stature. Julia Louis-Dreyfus pretended to be Questlove DJing, complete with his afro pick in her own straight hair. Alone, these moments could be easily overlooked as objective slip-ups. But collectively, and given the overall tendency of award shows like the Golden Globes to shade people of color, they stung.

Glancing at some unenthusiastic faces in the room when Donald Glover accepted awards for Atlanta and Meryl Streep took down Donald Trump, I had no doubts about where Hollywood’s loyalties lie. I’m not implying that the Ryan Reynolds and Goslings of our world are inherently bad people. But the industry they work in will always fall over itself to pat them on the back, even when the work is mediocre. (Yes, I hated La La Land — get over it.) Questioning inequality in Hollywood is a threat to the very foundation of their success. That’s how privilege works.

Why care about who isn’t getting acknowledged in the industry when your projects will always get a seal of approval? When you always have a seat at the table, where is the incentive to consider those who won’t eat?

Hidden Figures can become “Hidden Fences” because no one is willing to examine, let alone surrender, their own privilege.

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