Is Hollywood Making Good on Its Promise of Diversity?

In a world of 7.9 billion others, it’s common to feel lost in between them, not knowing who you are or where you fit. In these moments, movies and series help. As we watch characters like us conquer the world, we begin to realize that we can too. But what if we don’t see characters like us? What if we don’t have any similarities with them? Does that mean we won’t make it in this world?

It’s safe to say that films have significantly affected our lives. We get influenced by the stories we watch on screens and the characters behind them. We fall for them and root for them. But until recently, these movies were all similar. The characters always looked a certain way and came from a particular background. Consequently, it could be argued that these films told the same old stories. That was until Hollywood decided to do something about it. The film industry made a promise to the world to become more diverse, vowing to include people from around the globe. How well have they kept their promise?

After examining movies that have come out lately, one can say that there has definitely been more inclusion in these past years. After the 2015 and 2016 Academy Awards received backlash for nominating no people of color, #Ocsarssowhite taking over the internet, the industry has been trying to fix its mistake. In 2018, three out of the four major acting awards were given to people of color. Moreover, according to UCLA’s annual Hollywood diversity report, the number of women in the industry has grown, with females representing 47% of film leads and 42% of actors.

Unfortunately, other statistics from this same report pulled me back into the reality of the industry, throwing ice-cold water on my dreams for the film world. In the same category of film leads, research revealed that only four out of 10 main characters are portrayed by people of color. Furthermore, both female and male non-white underrepresented individuals make up only 30% of directors. Discovering that Jane Campion, winner of this year’s Academy Award for best director, is only the third woman to win this award broke my heart. This was also only the third time since Kathryn Bigelow’s win in 2010 (the first woman to receive the director trophy) that the person winning wasn’t a Caucasian male.

Hollywood might be becoming more inclusive, but they still have a long way to go.

 

Why This Promise Is Vital

It’s no surprise that our world is becoming more and more diverse by the day. Yet, the movies we see constantly tell stories targeted to a white audience. And when the entertainment industry acts as a mirror, reflecting our world, ultimately influencing us and the way we think, this can be incredibly harmful. What makes this lack of diversity and inclusion dangerous is that minorities and underrepresented groups don’t see themselves on the screens. Accordingly, children and adolescents growing up around television could start to think that they do not have a place in this world.

However, it’s important to differentiate between the words ‘diversity’ and ‘representation’. Having a specific number of people of color and minorities on set and/or in a cast doesn’t necessarily mean that these individuals are representative of a creative group. How can we expect them to be when only 32.3% of Hollywood films are written by people of color? These characters are often placed into stereotypical roles, their jobs doing more harm than good.

So, how can we fix Hollywood’s problem and make sure it makes good on its promise?

 

Solutions 

For starters, non-white underrepresented individuals and minority groups need to be given a seat at the table. Allowing people other than the usual Caucasian male to write, create and share films will not only guarantee an inclusive working crew but will lead to more diverse stories finding their way to audiences. Consequently, teens still forming their identities can see characters on the screen similar to them, realizing they don’t need to change to fit into this chaotic world.

What’s even more beautiful about diverse stories being put out is that these different films will be able to explore various cultures, ethnicities, political beliefs, ages, and religions. Consequently, inclusion will truly be achieved. And who knows, perhaps these movies could help educate people, making them more open to varied ideologies and cultures, broadening their focus on the world in the 90 minutes spent on their couches.

Another area that needs to change is the one occupied by those in charge. The findings from the same Hollywood diversity report mentioned above indicate that women experience more difficulties when securing finance for their films as opposed to their male colleagues. This puts them, along with people of color facing the same issues, at a disadvantage before they even start, when others are given millions more and thus can create higher quality pieces. Non-white underrepresented individuals and minority groups need to be given the same opportunities as their colleagues.

Additionally, the Oscar fiasco of 2015 and 2016 shows only evidence that the critics judging these films, controlling their success need to be changed. The board cannot look the same, think the same, and come from the same background. Instead, there must be inclusion in the critics’ circle for the diverse movies to see the light of day.

 

Increasing diversity and encouraging inclusion are crucial in today’s world. Not only will Hollywood benefit from it, but without it, we won’t be able to experience the many stories that need to be told but have not yet been.

 

Illustration: hugolacasse/Shutterstock

 


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