Mainstream Film Has A Race Problem. The Series ‘Every Single Word Spoken’ Is Proving This.
Meet Dylan Marron, the 27 year-old Venezuelan American writer, actor, director and creator behind viral video series Every Single Word Spoken By A Person Of Color. The project is composed of YouTube videos of mainstream films with universal storylines that are edited to only include parts where actors of color have speaking parts. The series shows us in stark terms just how alarming Hollywood’s race issue (including the larger media landscape) is. We knew people of color were largely underrepresented in major films, but seeing just how short films would be if we were the only characters in in them is both enlightening and disturbing.
We spoke to Marron about what inspired the project, viewers’ reactions, how he hopes this project will help spark change within the film industry, and why content creators of color need to continue to push for their stories to be heard and seen.
MadameNoire (MN): What inspired Every Single Word Spoken?
Dylan Marron (DM): When we talk about this, it’s so easy for us to pretend that it was this one moment. When you grow up as a Brown person in America, you are deeply aware that you are brown. I grew up as a kid like that. I watched movies and rarely saw reflections of myself. When I was younger, sometimes in high school productions, casting directors would call me into auditions for plays, films, or TV shows. Sometimes out of these auditions, I got meetings with agents. The agents were saying the same thing. “There’s not going to be much work out there for you and you will never play these types.” They said that in a variety of ways with a lot of euphemisms. “Oh, you’re very interesting.” You realize they are just reflecting the fact that, as an industry, the mainstream film industry isn’t calling for many people of color.
Recently, there have been a lot of things that aligned for me. I’m on the podcast Welcome to Night Vale. It’s a really great and rare example of a truly diverse cast of gender, race, and sexuality. The main storyline is a queer interracial couple. That just doesn’t happen in mainstream media. I feel lucky to be employed by a rare exception. In terms of searching for other work to be in, I feel like there are so few roles that are going to people of color (specifically in film). I thought, “Why is this the reaction I keep getting from agents? Why am I talking to so many of my friends who are people of color working in the industry and they are feeling the same thing?’
My goal in these videos is, “This is why.” It’s because there is such a lack of representation in these stories.
MN: How did you pick the movies?
DM: I look at a variety of movies and genres, some blockbusters and indie movies. I watch the entire movie, which I think is important. I take this work very seriously and make sure this is an honest representation of every single word spoken by a person of color. I don’t want to skip over lines that I’ve missed. I take notes and time stamps and edit them and throw them on YouTube.
None of these movies are about whiteness. They are universal stories about incredibly human themes. The Fault In Our Stars is a universal story about love, loss, and dealing with mortality at a young age. None of that has to do with whiteness. Everyone can relate to that. Why is whiteness the default? Why is it that when we are telling these universal stories we are using white people? Whereas if we are doing a biopic on a Black person, we use a Black cast. When we’re telling stories that Hollywood gets to count as plain old stories, why not include people of color
MN: Why did you choose to only look at movies?
DM: It’s a personal decision. I think television is doing cool things with race. There is comparatively more representation on television than in film. If we keep pointing to people like Shonda Rhimes and Lee Daniels, we are only talking about exceptions. There needs to be more Shonda Rhimes of more races and backgrounds. We can’t just depend on this one woman to keep giving us diverse stories on television. I love Shonda Rhimes, but I want more of her.
MN: What has surprised you about some of the reactions to the series?
DM: One of the greatest reactions I have is from people who are like, “Wow, I had no idea. I never even noticed this.” These are aware, “with it” friends of mine. Even though I have been aware of this for so long, I watched Spike Jonze’s Her in the theaters and I left thinking it was an amazing movie. Looking back, I’m like, “There are no people of color of any importance.”
I’m not saying these films or directors are racist. I am saying that there is systemic racism going on and I think we have sharpened our tools to talk about racist people. By “we” I mean culture at large.
On a larger national level, we don’t have the tools to actually talk about systemic racism. It’s so much easier for us to pitchfork the people who we deem as the problem. The people aren’t the problem, the system is the problem.
A few minutes ago I got off the phone with my fiance, who is White, and he was telling me that his sister sat down with her 12-year-old White daughter to show her these videos so they could start a conversation about race. If that is happening, this project is successful. If people, especially young people, are becoming aware and not just taking it for granted thinking movies are made by White people and people of color are peripheral characters who are rarely given a name. Because of this and because my fiancee’s sister sat down with her daughter to say this is something that is going on and something that Uncle Dylan is doing and this is WHY he is doing it… that is a huge thing.
MN: Since starting this project, has there been anything you’ve noticed about the representation of Black women in the movies?
DM: Unfortunately, I feel that all people of color are lumped into one category. In terms of specifically Black women, I’m thinking of 500 Days of Summer. They have so few lines. The comedian Yvette Nicole Brown’s credit in the movie was “New Secretary.” Black women and all people of color deserve a more amplified voice than that. I don’t know that I can speak to trends of specifically Black women because everyone who is not a straight White dude is lumped into the same category regardless of gender and sexual orientation. It seems that people of color are all categorized as one.
MN: How many of these videos are you going to make?
DM: I want to make 100 of these videos. Then, I will finish the project. They will exist forever on the Tumblr. I’m an actor, director, and writer. I want to be telling the stories I want to tell rather than criticizing the stories that are being told.
MN: How has this project changed you as a person?
DM: I am more aware than ever that people that don’t feel that they are represented within the media sphere need to stop at nothing to get their stories out there. It is a much harder road for us. It is the diversity of voices that are telling the stories that are ultimately going to change that.
There are really good examples of race-blind casting such as the 1990s TV movie Cinderella (with Brandy). That’s such an awesome example of what race-blind casting can look like. That’s a universal story. If you want me to believe that mice turn into horses and a pumpkin turns into a carriage, I can believe that a Korean prince is the son of a Black mother and a White father. That said such profound things but unfortunately that film has been an exception and not a trend.
We need more diverse voices telling stories. Let’s tell these amazing universal stories. We don’t have to just tell stories about our own racial experience. If we are going to tell a universal story, we are going to cast, consider, and present it differently.
Watch some of the videos here: