Not Just Black and White From Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 film The Great Dictator satirizing World War II to Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film Jurassic Park addressing the unchecked progression of science, film showcases topics being discussed in America. These topics range, but one trait is similar between them all. The characters are played by white actors and actresses. In 2016 minorities were outnumbered 3 to 1 for film leads (Citation). This statistic contrasts with the current diversity of America, which finds that 40 percent of Americans are in a minority.
Should films be expressive of America and have more diverse casts is a major issue currently facing Hollywood. Like other debates there are multiple perspectives on this issue of diversity in Hollywood. Diversity has always been an issue in Hollywood. Since the birth of film white males have always been the hero, and any minorities are the villains. In 1922 Mexico started a ban of films that featured Mexicans as villains. This continuation of white males as the heroes has continued and seeped into current society.
The article also discusses that minorities, despite having have great skill and appeal, received a lower pay and rougher treatment compared to their white male counter parts. Despite the passing of the Civil Rights Acts, the divides between whites and minorities were still apparent. Beliefs and actions have changed since the 1960’s in respect to diversity, but Hollywood still seems to struggle with the issue of diversity. (Vasey) The Oscars so white Controversy is not just the last couple years, it has been similar throughout the history of the Oscars.
Overwhelmingly the type of people who win Oscars are white males and female. 9% of best actress winners are white and 92% of best actor winners are white. Only 7% of the entire academy are people of color. 98% of writers and producers are white. Since such a minuscule amount of people in the industry are white it explains how diversity is such an issue in Hollywood If Hollywood could work on lowering these percentages, the Oscar so white controversy would be an event of the past. The Oscars so white controversy started in response to the Academy of Motion Pictures nominating only white actors and actresses for the second year in a row.
The controversy was spread through the hashtag #OscarssoWhite and photos comparing all the nominees. This photo showcases each nominee of best actor, best actress, best supporting actor, best supporting actress. Every single person in the film is apparently white. This picture is used to show that not a single person of minority descent was nominated in the acting categories. The issue with this picture is it shows only four categories among 14 others. For example, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, was nominated, and won the Oscar for best director for, The Revenant.
The image itself seems not credible as there is no source and is simply designed, but presents a compelling argument at the same time. The Oscars is not the only place where diversity is an issue; it is an issue across all Hollywood. Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Marc Choueiti, and Dr. Katherine Pieper with assistance from Ariana Case and Justin Marsden studied the top 800 films from 2007-2015 and investigated to find what number of minorities worked on these films. The authors found that minorities are highly underrepresented in these films.
The main cohorts being studied in the article were Gender, Race/Ethnicity, LGBT, and Disability groups. One such underrepresentation was gender, which the study found that “Out of 4,370 speaking or named characters evaluated, 68. 6% were male and 31. 4% were female across the 100 top-grossing films of 2015. ” (Smith) Now compare this statistic to America where the male and female ratio is 49% to 51%. If film is to be a representation of America, the number of speaking roles should be representative of what America is like. In addition to race and gender, age is discriminated against in Hollywood.
In an article published in Journal of Management Inquiry Irene E. De Pater, Timothy A Judge, and Brent A. Scott analyzed the pay of top actors to determine if there is a pay gap between men and women. The authors also attempted to determine if age is a determinate in pay scale. The results reveal that “the average earnings per film of female movie stars increase until the age of 34 but decrease rapidly thereafter. In contrast, male movie stars’ average earnings per film reach the maximum at age 51 and remain stable after that. (407-420)
This shows that for males aging is fine, but for women once you pass a specific age, per the study 34, a female actor becomes worth less than their younger counterparts. Even though a more diverse film such as Moonlight won best picture, diversity is not completely solved there is still a massive amount of work left. In an LA times interview with the original creator of the Oscars so white hashtag, April Reign, she talks about the success of Moonlight and how if Hollywood produces movies about the struggles of African Americans people will pay and attend the movie.
Reign gave the Academy credit for being much more inclusive for their nominees in 2017. When La La Land first won, she was initially disappointed, but understood that the fact that Moonlight was even nominated was a giant step forward for minorities. Reign wanted to ensure that her followers knew that, even though Moonlight won, this is not the end; this is only the first step towards inclusivity. (Rottenburg) Having more diverse nominees and acclaim for films feature people of color is one step, but much more need to be taken before film is representative of America.
One reason people do not want increased diversity is because they believe it is not required. In an interview by Bustle with Tim Burton he states that his movies don’t require a diverse cast. Stating “things either call for things, or they don’t” Burton defends that his movie just didn’t need anyone that was non-white. He even harkens back to the Blaxploitation movie movement of the 70’s and 80’s stating that no white people were needed in those films. This perspective was brought up after the interviewer asked Burton about the lack of diversity in his films.
The interviewer notes that Samuel Jackson, the villain in Burton’s new movie, is the only nonwhite main character to ever appear in one of Burton’s films. (Simon) Since casting can make or break a film, it is understandable for the director to want the best to appear in their films. Another reason people do not want diversity is since it doesn’t sell in international markets. The example given was the drama Empire, which did poorly in international markets, despite doing excellent in the United States market.
Executives do not want to take the risk of buying a show and it potentially flopping on their network. The success of other multicultural centered shows, such as the Cosby Show, and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air show that diversity can sell. Executives claimed these shows were as profitable since, despite the prominently nonwhite cast, white audiences could connect with the universal struggles that the black characters in the shows struggled with. (Roxborough) Films can cost millions of dollars and executives want to make sure that the money they invest in the movie is returned on a profit.
If they find that something doesn’t sell they will not want to take the risk with it. One reason people want diversity is it will help heal the racial divide in America. In an interview by PBS News Hour with a sociologist from UCLA, Darnell Hunt, He brings up the point that even though the Emmys were much more diverse in recent years there are still issues with diversity in film. Hunt quoted Viola Davis’s Acceptance speech “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there. ” Hunt argues that colored actors do not receive the same opportunities as white actors.
Modern film, he states, is nowhere near reflective of the current state of American diversity, where almost 40% of the country is minorities. Hunt states that continually using only white males can perpetuate the stereotype that black males are inferior in a way and women are weaker. Hunt believes this can be detrimental to society. He also believes that if Hollywood can add more diversity to their films they can help the racial divide that is occurring in our country. (Hunter-Gault) By showing black people as the heroes in film, studios can help push the idea that African Americans are no lesser than white people.
This could help repair the divide in America. Another reason people want diversity is because currently it is much more difficult for a non-white male or female to obtain a role in Hollywood. The New York Times interviewed various minority industry workers about what their journey to Hollywood was like. The industry workers talked about how difficult it was to start a career in Hollywood. The industry workers discussed roadblocks they faced before they even went to LA and the people who told them they would fail if they came to LA.
They also talked about how difficult it is to still receive a role and proper treatment in Hollywood. Despite these setbacks, they also shared stories of how they succeeded and how proud they were that they succeeded. (Ryzik) These industry workers could overcome the issues of diversity, but others are not so fortunate. If studios started having increased diversity in Hollywood, in both casting and production, this would open a multitude of opportunities for other minority industry workers and the cases in this interview would not just be the lucky few.
Even though there are a spectrum of perspectives on whether Hollywood needs to embrace diversity, there is one unifying tie. Their position on diversity depends on how the individual views the importance of film. The executives were against diversity because they viewed film as a money maker, thus if diversity doesn’t create a profit, more diverse casts are not worth the loss of money. The director was against diversity because he is just used to using white casts and doesn’t believe the need for a diverse cast.
Darnell Hunt from UCLA viewed film as a reflection of American society, thus film should showcase what is going on in America. The industry workers view film as any other occupation and a move towards inclusivity in one field is a movie forward on any field. If an individual looks at film as just a film or dollar signs, their view of increased diversity is negative. If an individual looks at films as a screenshot of American culture and a source for progressivism, their view of increased diversity is positive. A person judges’ diversity depending on how they view the importance of film.