Hollywood’s Struggle with Diversity

Conner Hua, Staff Writer

Can you guess what movie I’m talking about? A noseless creep has an unhealthy obsession with a teenage boy. That’s right, we all know it. Any Harry Potter movie. What about the movie where a billionaire devotes his life fortune to cosplay and attacking the mentally ill? The Hollywood cult classic, Batman. Okay, one last one. America invades a foreign land, kills the local leadership, and struggles to find an exit strategy. That one was almost too easy, The Wizard of Oz. What do all these movies have in common besides the opportunity for their plot to be explained horribly? The fact that all of these movies failed to incorporate racial diversity.

Hollywood and the film industry have historically been and still are, predominantly white. Hollywood has been notorious for having casts made up mostly of, if not exclusively, Caucasian actors. In recent years, the film industry has faced considerable backlash for not including more racial diversity. In fact, an annual study done by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 2016 found that in the U.S., people of color reported a higher movie attendance per capita than white people. Yet still, during 2016, while Hollywood boasted of efforts of change and an incorporation of people of color into films, ethnic groups were still being underrepresented, with films that even went as far as having white actors play characters of ethnicities and nationalities that they weren’t. So, let’s examine this.

The same diversity report conducted by UCLA in 2016 found that 13.9% of lead roles were played by people of color, yet those of color accounted for 38.7% of the US population, according to the U.S Census Bureau. Those numbers equate to an astounding statistic: 1.4 out of 10 lead actors in films were actors of color. The media and the public were quick to cash in on this issue. The film industry’s most anticipated event, the Oscars, was followed by a stream of public backlash when no actors of color were nominated for the four acting categories for two years in a row. The media even went on to brand the hashtag, #OscarsSoWhite, across various platforms, making the world aware of Hollywood’s failure to include and acknowledge actors of color in movies.

However, did the film industry learn its lesson? Slightly.

In the following year, the Oscars included seven actors of color nominated as well as three documentaries directed and starred in by black actors. With movies released such as Coco, Hidden Figures, Selma, and Moonlight celebrating those other than white, straight males, Hollywood was showing signs of change. In fact, the Oscars of this year showed noteworthy efforts at inclusivity. Mexican immigrant and director Guillermo del Toro was awarded with Best Director and Best Picture for his film, The Shape of Water. Jordan Peele became the first African-American to win an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for his movie, Get Out, which highlighted racial tensions and the ways racism can express itself in subtle microaggressions. Coco, Disney’s animated movie that ventured into the Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos, and was voiced by Latin actors, won Best Animated Feature Film, a victory for Latin America and those of Latin descent. Yet in that same year, with movies such as Ghost in the Shell showing that the film industry still practices “yellowface” (a non-Asian, most commonly white, actor playing the role of an Asian character), Hollywood also reminded the public that racial misrepresentation was still a prevalent issue in society. Ghost in the Shell was based off the Japanese manga with lead character, Motoko Kusanagi, yet the movie altered the name to a drastically white-washed version of the name, Mira Killian. Ghost in the Shell served as a reminder that racist films that failed to cast racially accurate roles still frequent box offices.

The question arises: why doesn’t the film industry change its ways? It’s honestly a question that has stumped the public. Films that incorporate racial diversity through non-white leads and supporting characters have been statistically shown to prevail in box offices. The truth is, a majority of the American public are fed up with seeing the same actors play in every single movie. They are fed up with never seeing races being depicted with actors of the correct ethnicity or nationality, a form of blunt racism still prominent in movies. According to The Verge, Get Out alone brought in an estimated $253 million in gross sales. Additionally, movies such as Hidden Figures and Moonlight, both movies following the stories of black characters, attracted a number of awards and positive feedback from millions across the U.S., yet the film industry doesn’t seem to be capitalizing on the American public’s desire for racial diversity.

The lack of diversity in films can have a devastating effect on the youth of America. If the younger generations are growing up in a world where one of the largest industries in America is not celebrating the vast variety of ethnic groups present in the world, they will be subjected to a culture of oppression and bigotry. The lack of racial diversity in films that millions of our youth watch could cause a predisposition of racial intolerance through the constant instilling of the notion that other ethnicities and nationalities are not good enough to make it to “the big screen”. Through this lack of racial diversity in movies that they look up to and take life lessons from, we are indoctrinating the younger generations with racial intolerance when they are unable to see that racial equality is a real thing. They become unable to respect other races as a result of it. However, through incorporating different ethnicities and nationalities into movies, we can teach children to celebrate themselves for who they are. For children to see a vast range of successful actors of various ethnicities from a young age, we can teach indifference and show that despite social barriers, we as a nation are able to break that glass ceiling for years to come.

Some have differing views, even within the film industry itself. Actress Frances McDormand is a prevalent actor in Hollywood, adorned with multiple accolades, two Emmy awards, a Tony award, and two Oscar Academy awards. Besides being a good actress, McDormand is also one of Hollywood’s biggest advocates for diversity within the film industry. In this year’s Oscars, after Frances McDormand accepted her award for her lead role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, she set her Oscar down, and asked all the female nominees that night to stand up. She followed this with a call to female actors, saying that they had, “stories to tell and projects [that] need financ[ing]”. Her speech ended with two words, a message she wanted to broadcast to all that were watching: inclusion rider. In fact, that night, according to a tweet by Merriam-Webster, “inclusion” was the top search of the night. Simply explained, the “inclusion rider” is a clause that an actor can insert in their contract that demands a certain level of diversity (determinable by individual) among a film’s cast. McDormand heavily advocates for actors to take a larger stance on injustices facing their own community, the acting community, and begin exploring the inclusion rider, and the impact it could have on Hollywood.

However, should actors be allowed to demand that a film’s cast reach certain diversity quotas? Some argue that casting, in an effort to be politically and historically accurate in the ethnicity of actors, has begun to overlook the raw talent of actors. To answer this, the only movies that would require racial accuracy are ones that are modeled after or are based off of pre-existing forms of media such as books, legends, or historical events. In these cases, I would say movies absolutely have an obligation to ensure that their casting choices are “politically correct”. These movies are produced based off of a certain theme or message which is sometimes heavily dependant on race. To allow the film industry to forsake these themes in the name of “talent” would be to wrong the creators of the original content or the events that took place. However, in the case that movies are produced purely out of the screenwriter or director’s imagination and creativity, the director is in no way obligated nor should feel pressured by the public to cast a certain number actors of color. If the public finds wrong in this, they are within their right to boycott viewing the movie and express to others their dissatisfaction. Ultimately, the public does need to realize that a movie and its original concepts are an expression of a screenwriter’s visions and hopes for the movie and does not have to incorporate racial diversity if it was not apart of the original vision.

So finally, how can we as individuals work to better this issue before us and help to ensure that the film industry and Hollywood actively works to include actors from all backgrounds? Firstly, know your fight. Educate yourself on the various instances of the lack of racial diversity in films and understand how it’s harming our society. Before watching a movie, realizing it has no ethnic representation, and beginning to speak negatively about it, educate yourself into the origins of the movie’s concept before choosing to criticize it. Secondly, take an active part in speaking out against the injustices in the film industry and Hollywood. You can express your unwillingness to allow the film industry to continue their cycle of racial misrepresentation by actively boycotting problematic content, even creating content with proper representation yourself, or speaking out on social media platforms. Lastly, resist and support. Embrace the tremendous power you have to influence change as a consumer by refusing to support movies that fail to empower other ethnic groups. Support films that see this issue and tackle it head-on with casts of a wide ethnic variety. With your actions, we can show Hollywood and the film industry that we will not stand for their failure to actively incorporate racial diversity.