Chelsea Handler Gets Real About White Privilege With Alex Stapleton
By Diana Brown
September 7, 2019
When Chelsea Handler isn't busy hosting her podcast, Life Will Be The Death Of Me, she's been hard at work on tour promoting her book of the same name, talking about her year of self-discovery when she started therapy. She also made a documentary with filmmaker and director Alex Stapleton called Hello, Privilege. It’s Me, Chelsea, tackling the subject of white privilege. “[It was] something that I didn’t realize that I was a beneficiary of until I was older,” Chelsea says. “I thought I really worked hard for everything I had and it was because of all my talent, and then I realized, ‘Well, wait a second. That can’t be the only part of the equation.’” On this episode, Chelsea, her assistant Brandon, and Alex talk about what they learned making their documentary, how important representation in Hollywood is, and the challenges in talking with white people about race.
Chelsea’s talked before about how she believed that, because Barack Obama got elected and she was sure Hillary Clinton would win the 2016 election, society had moved past racism and sexism; her bubbles were truly burst after the election, and once the Black Lives Matter and Me Too movements were demonstrating that we are far from past these issues. “White privilege for you, kind of in your head, started when you got to LA, and then, bam, the white privilege meter was on and you got this career,” Alex says. “It was interesting for me to try to peel back the layers a little bit for you to see, ‘Oh, no. This goes way deeper than just being in California with my comedy career.’ And I think that runs parallel to how I think white people think about race...They can accept white privilege in small doses.” But it’s “a daily event,” Chelsea agrees.
Chelsea’s eyes were opened a lot when Alex had her meet with her ex-boyfriend from high school, Tyshawn, with whom Chelsea had been caught twice smoking pot. Each time, the police officer had told Chelsea to go home to her parents, while Tyshawn, despite being the same age, was arrested. “He had a full scholarship to UNLV, which he lost...I wasn’t supposed to graduate high school on time, but...they bent the rules for me,” Chelsea says. “So I was afforded the luxuries that Tyshawn would never ever have been afforded...his life went off the track, whereas mine was fine.” Due, in most part, because of the color of her skin, Brandon says, and Alex agrees, “Yeah, you had the complexion for the connection." This is the part of white privilege, the systemic part, that Chelsea had been missing. “When you encountered law enforcement, it was like, ‘Oh, this poor girl needs to go back to her people,’” Alex says. “Whereas Tyshawn is thought of as a perpetrator, no second chances.”
Similarly, in Hollywood, white male directors are afforded countless opportunities to make movies, despite major flops, while plenty of women and directors of color are put out to pasture after one failed project. “If I mess up on a job, it might devastate my career,” Alex points out, “and for a white male especially, I would say even more so than a white woman...I think that you got a lot of opportunities to correct yourself.”
The same is true for shows and movies about black people and people of color, too. For example, Netflix canceled the show Dear White People after two seasons, only to bring it back after a huge fan outcry on Twitter. Representation on screen is really important, Alex says, but “maybe if there were a couple more black executives at Netflix, it could have been communicated, without this trench warfare situation on Twitter, to keep that TV show alive,” she says. “I feel like it’s critical that you have black executives that...understand the nuances of what’s happening so that you can make a better product, you can speak to more people...That, to me, is actually fixing the system more so than, ‘we're trending right now with our African-American content.’"
Join Chelsea, Brandon, and Alex for this frank conversation about race, white privilege, Halle Bailey in The Little Mermaid, and representation onscreen and off, on this episode of Life Will Be The Death Of Me.
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