Hollywood: In Black & White
Updated: May 20, 2020
This winter, I had the chance to go on the “Inside Hollywood” signature experience for one of my majors, Media and Culture. While the trip was fun, and we made a lot of super cool visits, I did notice one aspect was especially lacking. Diversity and Inclusion in entertainment. A huge hot button topic that’s finding its way into many media boardrooms across the industry.
Personally visiting so many different places in Hollywood and the surrounding areas, the problem is clear. There is a stark lack of representation found throughout employees in front of and behind the camera. Through all of the visits we’ve been on as a group during the two weeks, we have seen and interacted with somewhere around 9 people of color. Meeting with roughly 70 people during these last weeks, that means ~12% of the professionals have been people of color, while the other ~88%, based on appearance, have been white.
Among many barriers that hinder people of color from breaking into the film industry, external issues may come to mind first. But what about the internal issues? I feel those must be addressed as well. We had the chance to speak with an actress and a casting director who had some really interesting comments on inclusion in Hollywood. They mentioned a speech by Emmy winning writer Alan Yang in 2016 where he said, “Asian parents, do me a favor. Give your kids some cameras instead of violins, and we’ll be all good.” This comment is interesting for a few reasons. But first, I want to make note of the power that parents have over their children’s future. Parents can easily dictate the extra-curricular activities that their child participates in, and if a child is only exposed to are violin and piano lessons that they were forced to take, how would they know the breadth of opportunities that across the world?
Sometimes, parents do not understand the amount of power they have. Societal pressures, specifically on Asians to uphold the idea of being the “model minority” have an adverse effect on children who want to make a career in professions that are known to be less lucrative than law, or health for example. Parents that take the option of exploration away from their children during adolescence are one of the issues that leads to a lack of representation in the TV and film industry.
Another problem that leads to the lack of inclusivity in TV and Film is the lack of diversity in the writing room, according to the casting director we spoke to. One thing I’ve learned about through these last two weeks is that writers write what they know. They write about their experiences, and those experiences could be specific to their culture, gender expression, or religion, depending on the story. In her book, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race, Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum notes research from the Public Region Research Institute that says, “75 percent of White people have entirely white social networks. (Tatum 45)” What I pull from that quote is that white writers’ stories and experiences do not include people of color a majority of the time. Leading to an absence of diverse stories across all platforms, starting with the lack of differing experiences in the writer’s room. The deficiency of minority experiences being written then leads to a lack of minorities in on-screen roles. The shortage of representation on screen also causes issues for young actors of color, who are struggling to get their foot in the door. Marian Wright Edelman said in the documentary, Miss Representation, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
Of all the issues listed above, the most glaring is the issue of finances, which relate to power and access. On Wednesday, the actress we spoke with mentioned a movie she had been working on for several years. She told us how much she would love to have a woman direct her film, but sometimes things don’t work out that way because money talks. “If a person that has the money I need to fund my film and they want a male to direct it, am I going to say no,” she asked us, rhetorically. That quote goes to show where the power lies in this industry.
Power and wealth go hand in hand. So, who has the wealth in America? White people. Forbes.com found that in 2013, wealth for the median White household was $116,800 while the wealth for the median Black household was $1,700, and $2,000 for Hispanic households. Less money flowing through the households means there is less opportunity for Black and Hispanic people to fund projects. Which leaves mostly White people to act as gatekeepers for what is produced and what is not, effectively choosing whose stories are told.
In closing, there is a systematic issue plaguing diversity in the entertainment business. As seen above, there are issues and faults in many different places. Including parental guidance during childhood, social experiences, and access to money. However, there are things happening to close the racial gap in entertainment. From funding opportunities like the “Inclusion Rider” that only funds projects that involve casts and crews that are at least 50% female, all the way to production companies like Netflix and Apple TV+ who are taking intentional steps towards inclusive programming.
Photo by: Chris Molnar
Originally Posted: January 28th, 2020