A PBS Moment:|
Don Cheadle Waxes
The Ulmer Scale
In a four-part PBS series aired in 2008 called "America Beyond the Color Line,"
noted public intellectual and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. traveled
to four different parts of America - the East Coast, the deep South, inner-city
Chicago and Hollywood - to meet the people who are defining black America.
In the fourth program, during a stroll down Venice Beach complete with appropriate
cutaways to vagrant buskers, Gates speaks with actor Don Cheadle (163 out of 300
bankability points on The Ulmer Scale) about the challenges black actors face in Hollywood.
Does the unprecedented success of African-American actors at the 2008 Oscars signal
a genuine shift in the way race operates in the movie business, Gates wonders? Is
Hollywood institutionally racist? Or is it becoming increasingly color-blind in
pursuit of the box office dollar?
It is here that Cheadle - unbeknownst and utterly unprompted by us- made a most
intriguing appraisal of The Ulmer Scale. Unlike your average celebrity who feigns
disdain for our scoring system (but is quick to use it when casting his co-stars),
Cheadle comes off with the savvy of a true Hollywood hyphenate. He is clearly a
shrewd actor-producer who knows bankable value from rutabagas because hyphenates,
after all, take a piece of a movieís back end. We especially enjoyed the following exchange:
Cheadle: Really, there is a scale - I think itís called The Ulmer Scale, Iím not
sure - thereís been a scale thatís been created where you stick in an actorís name
and it generates a percentage.
Gates: No kidding!
Cheadle: And thatís how a lot of these guys overseas make money.
Theyíre like, we need 90%. Now if that means Don Cheadle and Gabriel Byrne and
Kathleen Turner, fine. As long as it equals 90%.
Gates: I didnít know that.
Cheadle: Well, this is a scale that I have seen one time that someone pulled
out of a briefcase and showed me, and that Iíve never seen again.
Cheadle: And Iíve been looking for it ever since.
Gates: Yeah, well they donít let black people see that list.
Cheadle: It was a black guy that had it. (Gates laughs). I think he was a communist. (They both laugh).
Thank you, Don. (And for the record, money did not change hands in any form or manner
before shooting this scene). While you may have taken poetic license in describing
our methodologies - theyíre a bit more convoluted than "sticking in" actors names
to "get a percentage" -- we deeply appreciate your subversive tone in describing
the Scale. From the sound of it we are The Bearers of an Opus-Dei-ish Secret Code,
stashing our stats in underground caverns and unveiling them only during Dark of the
Moon Initiation Ceremonies for Commie Producers at Ed Asnerís House. Nicely done, Don.
With plugs like that have decided to send Don our Actors Hot List for free. At least
he wonít have to look for it any more. Weíve even put him on its cover.
May he win his Oscar (and raise his score) soon.★