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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 June 2007, 10:46 GMT 11:46 UK
Hollywood studio in race suit
By Peter Bowes
BBC News, Los Angeles

2 Fast 2 Furious
2 Fast 2 Furious topped the US box office

A Hollywood studio has been accused of sacking an assistant director because he is black.

Frank Davis, who worked on Universal Pictures' 2003 street racing movie 2 Fast 2 Furious, is heading to a Los Angeles court to seek compensation for his dismissal.

The lawsuit has been hailed as a landmark challenge to a major Hollywood studio on an issue that civil rights campaigners say is often swept under the carpet.

America's Equal Employment Opportunities Commission has accused Universal Pictures of violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by replacing Mr Davis with an assistant director who was Caucasian.

"From the very beginning it was pretty obvious they didn't want me on this film," Mr Davis told the BBC.

The film was directed by John Singleton, who is also black. Mr Singleton appointed Mr Davis, with whom he had worked on previous projects.

"This was a huge opportunity. It was historic in the sense that in movie history - it seems strange - until this project there has never been a black director and a black first assistant director on an $80m summer release movie," said Mr Davis.

'Different standard'

I have not done another movie and I was threatened that I was going to be blackballed by going forward and pressing these charges
Frank Davis

But within weeks of starting work on the film, Mr Davis claims another assistant director was being lined up to take his place.

"It was as if I was being set up. I was fired for no reason and I was given no reason and I was definitely treated differently as a black man than any of the white men there in similar situations to myself."

Mr Davis says he was not subjected to any racial slurs; instead the alleged discrimination came in the way that he was treated in matters such as salary and expectations from his performance in the job.

Halle Berry and Denzel Washington with their Oscars
Berry and Washington's Oscar wins were hailed as ground-breaking
"I have not done another movie and I was threatened that I was going to be blackballed by going forward and pressing these charges. Universal has sought out to selectively destroy my career," claimed Mr Davis.

"I was treated and hailed to a different standard on this film. I think Hollywood has a different standard for people of colour."

Universal Pictures has insisted that Mr Davis was dismissed purely on the basis of his inability to do the job.

The studio believes that he lacked the organisational skills necessary to manage the crew, a key aspect of the assistant director's responsibilities.

A spokesperson for Universal Pictures issued the following statement:

"There is absolutely no basis to these allegations, Universal is committed to equal employment opportunity in all aspects of its business, and we are confident many witnesses will testify that Mr Davis' firing had nothing to do with his race but was solely due to his poor performance as a first assistant director."  

'Reality behind the scenes'

Prosecutors are confident that they can prove their case.

According to Anna Park, a regional attorney with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, there is ample "circumstantial evidence" to prove that race played a part in Mr Davis' sacking.

Ms Park believes that the case highlights a broader problem in Hollywood, that few people are willing to discuss.

"The Commission has been informed that over the years there have been flagrant violations... very few people have been willing to come forward for fear of blackballing and unfortunately it has come true.

"Mr Davis has not worked in the three and half years that he has brought this to our attention."

In recent years, with A list actors such as Denzel Washington and Halle Berry achieving widespread acclaim and success at the Oscars, there has been a sense that Hollywood is embracing black artists more than ever before.

But critics say such high profile "acceptance" does not reflect the reality of life behind the scenes.

"It is an industry like no other," said Ms Park.

"They operate at a level that is almost presumptively above the law. It is also an industry with high stakes - a lot of money and with that some sense that they are above accountability."




SEE ALSO
Actor says Hollywood 'not racist'
01 Oct 03 |  Entertainment
Black equality battle 'just begun'
25 Mar 02 |  Oscars 2002

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