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The racist Project Greenlight episode title, explained

The racist Project Greenlight episode title, explained

Project Greenlight’s sixth episode, which aired last night, was titled “Hot Ghetto Mess.” That was not a phrase spoken by any character in the episode, which once again largely focused on producer Effie Brown’s ongoing attempts to manage production of a film directed by a petulant, demanding child who constantly goes behind her back to white men to get his way.

Also in this episode, Effie discovers that the only black extra has been cast as a chauffeur, reinforcing a stereotype and repeating “tropes we’ve seen time and time again.” You may recall that, in episode one, Matt Damon interrupted her to explain diversity, dismissing the need for a diverse director/directing team and instead said “do it in the casting of the film,” a comment for which Matt Damon congratulated himself. While Effie did hire a diverse crew, as she pointed out, the film itself stars all white people and last night had a large number of white extras.

With no person speaking the phrase during the episode, calling it “Hot Ghetto Mess”—with the “racial connotations of the word “ghetto”—this appeared to be a label applied to Effie’s efforts, because those were the focus of the episode. It becomes a phrase that reinforces another racist stereotype that, earlier this season, Effie said she wanted to avoid: “I will not be painted as the angry black woman.”

Comedian W. Kamau Bell had the best possible read of what was a truly awful title:


HBO takes its time to explain

This morning, I asked HBO why it titled the episode that way. An HBO publicist referred me to the show’s lead publicist, who she CCed, and who I wrote to separately two minutes later, at 11:01 a.m. ET. I still have not yet received a response. (Update: HBO sent Magical Elves’ statement, below, to me at 9 p.m. ET, saying my e-mail slipped through, which I absolutely understand.) Buzzfeed and a few other outlets did get a response, apparently late this afternoon that explained the “production mistake.”

HBO is now changing the title, it says, to “The Pivot,” another phrase used by Effie during the episode. As it turns out, “Hot Ghetto Mess” came from a line spoken by Effie that was edited out of the final episode:

“We are nowhere near where we were supposed to be at this time. Like, it’s just a hot ghetto mess.”

So why did that title stay when the line was removed? The statement, in full, attributed to Magical Elves, the production company that produces the show, says this:

“Though it may not be obvious, the majority of Project Greenlight titles come from a line spoken inside the episode. An earlier cut of the one that aired Sunday included another chaotic day on set resulting in the remark ‘this is a hot ghetto mess.’ In a scramble of last minute edits and changes, however, that scene was removed. The episode was then renamed the ‘The Pivot’ but the change was not reflected on the delivered master. It was a production mistake for which we take full responsibility. HBO is taking steps to correct the title across it platforms.”

BuzzFeed’s Kate Aurthur asked the obvious follow-up, “whether Magical Elves might consider the episode title to be ill-conceived even if Brown’s quotation had been included in “Hot Ghetto Mess.” She has not received a response.

Also, if this really was such a simple production error, why did it take all day to explain that?

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  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means. Learn more about Andy.


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