Famed director Woody Allen has come under consistent criticism throughout his career for the noticeable absence of people of color in his films. For a director who’s work and persona are so tied to the cultural melting pot that is New York City, his films tend to reflect a fairly homogeneous image of his hometown. His recent play, Bullets Over Broadway, debuted in April, and Allen came under fire for telling a story about Harlem’s famed Cotton Club without any black gangsters or black performers from that era.
The Cotton Club was extremely popular with black patrons in the 1920s, but in a recent interview with the New York Observer’s Roger Friedman, Allen defended his questionable decision to cast only white actors in the production; and his history of working predominantly with white actors. Friedman asked Allen if he would work with Oscar nominated actress Viola Davis, if given the opportunity.
“Not unless I write a story that requires it,” Allen stated. “You don’t hire people based on race. You hire people based on who is correct for the part. The implication is that I’m deliberately not hiring black actors, which is stupid. I cast only what’s right for the part. Race, friendship means nothing to me except who is right for the part.”
Friedman also asked the Annie Hall director about his personal relationships with black people.
“[Chris Rock] loved my work. When I got married to Soon-Yi he bought me a wedding present,” Allen said. “When I ran into him in Rome, we took him out for dinner. I’m friendly with Spike Lee. We don’t socialize, but I don’t socialize with anyone. I don’t have white friends either.”
Allen has been criticized by Lee himself over the years, as well as acclaimed actress Angela Bassett. The Oscar-nominated actress spoke about Allen in 2009, specifically citing his then-recent film Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
“I mean, to have one black cast member for the whole film seems rather strange, and, oh yes, she’s a prostitute, of course,” said Bassett at the time. “Don’t get me wrong, I love Spain and it looked beautiful, but that part of the world is so diverse and, really, what is that about?”