Monday, April 11, 2011

MULTI-FACIAL (Vin Diesel tackles race for the first and only time in his career)

I know this title may sound like a porno (multi-FACIAL), but its actually a short film starring vin diesel about his struggles landing roles early on in his career because he looked either; "too white" or "too black". Not only did Vin Diesel star, write and direct the movie, but it was his first entry in to film, period. Sometimes rejection and frustration from Hollywood can cause a person to make their own path, which is what Vin Diesel did (whether you like his movies or not...which i personally don't). This movie ended up making the film festival circuit and ended up screening at Cannes. Steven Spielberg saw it and liked it so much that he cast Vin Diesel in 'Saving Private Ryan', and the rest is history. This blog entry is very rare, because i can almost guarantee you wont ever see Vin Diesel or Steven Spielberg's name mentioned in this blog again outside of a joke (although i did like 'Pitch Black' and 'Find Me Guilty' now that i think about it).
The reason I'm writing this is because a friend recently posted that viral video of Vin Diesel breakdancing as a kid. Every time i see that, i always wonder if people know how he got his start in movies. Don't get it twisted, after 'Multi-Facial' he went on to become a typical action star. I'm not using this blog to praise Vin Diesel's acting career or anything like that, but anyone i come in contact with never seems to realize 'Multi Facial' even exists. He wasn't some guy who just magically landed roles in 'Saving Private Ryan' and the 'The Iron Giant'. I'm also posting this because at a party this past weekend, i got in to a long talk about movies and race. When Michael Mann's 'Ali' came up in conversation, a friend pointed out something that i never even realized (and I'm almost in disbelief that i never thought about this until Saturday). The point he made was that it seemed when it comes time to cast a major role for a black person, they just look at what current black actor is available. There's never an attempt to "make" a new actor or take an unknown and transform him to 'Ali' (or almost any role for that matter). It has to be someone people already know. But take a role like 'Thor' (and many others). When Hollywood needed a Thor (or a new spiderman, or the dude from twilight, or a harry potter, etc) they go on a search for one and make one (naturally all of those actors had been in movies before, but never a MAJOR role). There are exceptions that we're all aware of like; robert downey jr. christian bale and michael keaton, but you get the point I'm trying to make.
Not only does 'Multi-Facial' go hand in hand with classics like; 'Hollywood Shuffle', 'Story Of A Three Day Pass' and 'Chameleon Street', but it actually shows a side of Vin Diesel that most people weren't unaware of. Even though All the movies i mentioned above deal mostly with racial issues concerning black people, any multi-racial actor or an actor that looked a different race can relate to it. From: Anthony Quinn - a legendary actor who's played everyone from a Latino to an Italian, to Victor Argo - a Puerto Rican icon of new york city independent film who was often typecast as an Italian in the films of Martin Scorsese (mean streets) and Jim Jarmusch (ghost god) to a Jewish person (last temptation of christ) to Lou Diamond Philips, who's probably played every single race possible with the exception of a black person and a white person in the 1980's alone, to even The Rock. And lets not forget women. In fact, with women it goes a lot deeper, because non-white female actresses with a race that cant be pinned down always seem to get that ridiculous "exotic" label. Jessica Alba is an obvious example of this. But lets not forget people like Rae Dawn Chong (the token light skin girl of the 80's who was always cast when it was still somewhat "dangerous" to put an actress with dark skin opposite a white male lead in a romantic relationship). After i watched Vin Diesel's short for the first time, i imagined this is what a lot of these actors went through.
'Multi Facial' also draws a lot of comparison to John Cassavetes's first film; 'Shadows' - the story of 3 siblings (2 brothers and 1 sister) who are all different shades of black. The oldest brother, who struggles with the same auditioning/rejection stuff that Vin Diesel does in 'Mult-Facial', is the darkest. The light skinned middle brother seems to struggle with his identity and light skin complexion the most, while the youngest and lightest skinned (who basically passes for white) sister, is dumped by her boyfriend when he discovers she is actually black. Also, all the films previously mentioned (shadows, Hollywood shuffle, multi facial, the story of a 3 day pass and chameleon street) share the same rawness and have the same "rough around the edges" feel, but still get their point across. All of those movies are also directorial debuts.

The 3 sibling in 'Shadows'
'Hollywood Shuffle'

Wendall B Harris paints his daughters barbie black in 'Chameleon Street'
Vin Diesel auditioning for the part of a stereotypical Italian in 'Multi-Facial', which he doesn't get, because he looks "too black". In the film he also loses a role in a beer commercial because the actors are supposed to be black, and he's told he looks "too white". In fact, he doesn't even get to audition. He's stopped at the door by the casting agent at first sight who informs him that he looks to light. He also auditions for the part of a Latino as well.

My only issue with Mr. Diesel is that after his career took off, he never seemed to revisit or work in any more movies that dealt with racial issues (unless I'm forgetting something). Anyway, this is an interesting short film. Yes the acting the is VERY rough, and theres a scene where Vin Diesel raps which will make you wanna look away and cringe, but its definitely worth checking out (below). It's nothing new, but given Vin Diesel's filmography, you wouldn't expect something like this from him.


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