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Joel Fluellen

February 18, 1990

It was saddening to read of the death of Joel Fluellen, a gentle and caring man (Part A, Feb. 7). The Times obituary pays tribute to his having "played an instrumental role in fighting black discrimination in Hollywood during the 1940s and '50s," telling how he "introduced resolutions to the Screen Actors Guild asking the group to 'use all its powers to oppose discrimination against Negroes in the motion picture industry.' He also asked SAG to form a committee. His proposals were turned down." That last line is in error.

I served on the Screen Actors Guild Board of Directors in 1946. When Mr. Fluellen's resolution came up, it did pass, a committee was formed, and I was on it, along with two others, as I recall. We visited the heads of casting departments at all the major studios, urging them to offer more and better roles, not only to black actors, but to all minority performers. We asked that they help broaden public perceptions, and to show that not all blacks were servants, nor all Filipinos houseboys, not all Chinese ran laundries, not all Japanese were gardeners, not all Indians had been scalpers, not all Italians were gangsters, and so on.

We were received and heard politely, and told that they would do what they could. But they reminded us that they could only suggest, and that casting decisions remained with producers and directors. They warned us not to expect miracles, and indeed no miracles occurred. But now and then, there was a surprise piece of casting, slowly--very slowly--pointing the way to a better and fairer day.

So SAG deserves to be credited with a racial conscience as long ago as the mid-'40s. And Joel Fluellen deserves to be remembered and honored for his early efforts to "overcome."

MARSHA HUNT, Sherman Oaks

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