Who Will Be Our First Fake Latina President?
Jamie Foxx is Hollywood's latest black president.
In White House Down, which opened last Friday, Jamie Foxx plays the president of the United States, who teams up with a Capitol police officer, played by Channing Tatum, and battles terrorists who have taken over the White House. (As the A.V. Club points out, this is at least the third time that director Roland Emmerich has laid waste to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.)
The list of black presidents in Hollywood is actually pretty long. There was Morgan Freeman, who was a commander in chief charged with shepherding mankind through an extinction-level asteroid collision in Deep Impact. Deebo — er, Tommy Lister — was president of some future government as a Great Evil attacks the Earth in The Fifth Element. The Allstate dude (aka Dennis Haysbert) ran the country on Fox's 24, helping to protect the nation from all sorts of terrorist plots. (In Hollywood, a black man in the Oval Office meant the nation was in crisis; make of that what you will.)
Black presidents have also been vehicles to critique their particular cultural moments. In 1972's The Man, James Earl Jones is the president has to deal with racial unrest and the assumptions about his intellectual abilities. In 2003's Head of State, Chris Rock played a D.C. alderman who somehow ended up as the Democratic Party's nominee for the presidency. And, of course, Richard Pryor famously tweaked Reagan-era America on Saturday Night Live. The central joke of this species of fictional black president is that they exist in implausible alternate universes — implausible alternative universes in which the president's most powerful weapon is Real Talk™.
Then Barack Obama got elected, and the idea of a fictional black president ceased to be so novel. Foxx is Hollywood's latest black president. Ho-hum. (I mean, it's still kind of amazing. Just two decades earlier, a black president approaching the lame-duck portion of his second term as he was buffeted by scandals might have seemed like a plot detail in an overly precious piece of speculative fiction. Now we just call it Wednesday.)
Pop culture has often presaged the culture more broadly: Will & Grace and Ellen were popular before gay rights gained wide political traction. The Mary Tyler Moore Show augured the rise and mainstreaming of single professional women. And would we even have Roombas today if there'd never been an android child-maid on Small Wonder? A crucial part of Hollywood's role is to expand the realm of what we consider possible.
At this point, we've had black Hollywood presidents with moral gravitas, jokey black presidents, and now action-hero black presidents, à la Harrison Ford in Air Force One.
But we haven't yet gotten to the point in Hollywood's life cycle where there's been an ass-kicking, gun-toting Latina president or an embattled Desi president who must steer the nation through some epic crisis. We can't even laugh at those characters as implausible or roll those ideas around in our heads because those characters don't even exist. (Seriously. Jimmy Smits as Matt Santos on The West Wing is basically the whole list.)
So who would you pick to play the Latina commander-in-chief who has to stop some rogue submarine from setting off World War III? Who would be the Korean-American dude who starts out as White House chef and ends up as the nation's leader through some completely ridiculous sequence of coincidences? And how long before these fictions stop feeling like stunty casting choices and instead start to feel, well, plausible?
Now imagine the trailer for one of these hypothetical movies. ("In a world ..." and all that.) Who is the president in your mind's eye?
Tell us the cast of characters in the comments.
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.