Don Cheadle Needed a White Co-star

‘Miles Ahead’ (Sony Pictures Classics)

Exhibit 847,000 in the Case of Hollywood’s Bias Against People of Color comes from Don Cheadle, who acknowledged that he needed a white co-star in order to get financial backing for his upcoming film about jazz great Miles Davis.

Deadline reports that while doing press at the Berlin Film Festival forMiles Ahead, Cheadle — who directed and stars in the movie — talked about the challenges of getting funding, which included an Indiegogo campaign for about $370,000 of the budget. He also said that the casting of a white actor was crucial to getting the support necessary to get the movie made. (It hits select theaters on April 1.)

“There are different metrics by which those who are going to spend money on films determine if it’s a good risk or not, and there is a lot of apocryphal, not proven evidence that black films don’t sell overseas,” Cheadle said. “Having a white actor in this film turned out to be a financial imperative.”

Cheadle does not sound bitter about that; he added that it’s “one of the realities of the business we’re in” and that he felt the movie was even more compelling with Ewan McGregor in the role of a white Rolling Stonereporter who helps to coax Davis out of a dark creative period. Still, that “apocryphal, not proven evidence that black films don’t sell overseas” is the same kind of apocryphal, not proven evidence that has been referenced in Hollywood for years now.

Back in 2007, the New York Times published a lengthy piece about the challenges of selling movies with largely African-American casts overseas, citing the difficulties Dreamgirls was having in international markets.

“In the old days, they told you black films don’t travel down South. Now they say it’s not going to travel overseas,” Reginald Hudlin, a director and president of BET, told the Times back then. Hudlin happens to be one of the co-producers of this year’s Academy Awards, which has been criticized due to its lack of major nominations for African-Americans, a signal of exactly the kinds of barriers Cheadle alluded to in his remarks.

In that Times story, Hudlin also said the same thing that many people are still saying today when it comes to the lack of opportunities for people of color, as well as women: “When it comes to film and TV, there’s this huge barrier. I don’t believe it. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Watch a clip from ‘Miles Ahead:’

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