This essay is by our guest writer Edina Alix.
In the Twitter bio of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, it reads “we champion the power of human imagination.” In the last ninety years of the academy’s existence however, this “human imagination” has been overwhelmingly straight, white and male. In this year’s Oscar nominations alone, only one of the five directors nominated for best director was a woman (Greta Gerwig for “Lady Bird”) and her presence in the prestigious lineup marked the end of an eight year dry spell of the exclusive “boys club” of male directors in the category. Dee Rees (Mudbound) was snubbed of a best director nomination, marking yet another year that no women of color were nominated for best director. What was truly shocking was that this year marked the very first time that a woman was nominated for best cinematographer (Rachel Morrison for “Mudbound”) in the entire history of the Academy Awards.
This past year has been filled with “me toos” and “times ups” and during this time, Hollywood’s *slight* biases towards women and POC have become even more noteworthy during this unprecedented period of inclusion and evolution. Despite this immense amount of progress, I feel like there is still much more work needed to be done. In the words of #OscarsSoWhite founder April Reign- “Because we are still talking about firsts in 2018, it feels like it really is two steps forward but one and a half steps back.” This begs the question: what steps need to be taken in the future in order to make Hollywood a truly level playing field for minorities?
I believe that there needs to be three crucial steps taken for Hollywood to truly tip the scale in favor of every creative who steps into the industry to tell their stories; education, opportunity and advocacy.
Something I have been told as far back as I can remember is the first step to solving a problem is admitting that it exists in the first place. Luckily, the entertainment industry has already begun this very long process by admitting that the unequal playing field exists. This would have been almost unimaginable this time last year. Although this has mainly taken the form of #MeToo and #TimesUp, this movement of accountability has been bubbling on social media for a while with tags such as #OscarsSoWhite helping to pave the way for the movements we see today. I believe that the best thing we can do when it comes to this step is educating ourselves on the plights of different demographics of creatives and the struggles they face in the entertainment world. Without this education, accountability and responsibility are nearly impossible to achieve and people on the opposite end of ignorance will almost always reap the repercussions of other people’s foolishness. If we want an equal playing field, education is definitely the first and best way to go.
The next best thing any creative needs is the opportunity to shine. Contrary to popular belief, there are plenty of non white non male folks out there who are actively pursuing a career in the entertainment business. In a USC study, the author, Stacy L Smith says “When a very narrow slice of the population is in control of power and has the ability to greenlight a project, then we are going to see products and stories that reflect that narrow worldview.” It has never been about the availability of marginalized creators, it has always been up to those in charge of writing their checks. According to the same study, companies such as Disney, Fox, Sony, NBC etc didn’t receive a passing grade for inclusion. The television studios received a 70% at best. Despite this, only 22% of series creators are women. All of this evidence points to a need for inclusion. The fear is if aspiring creators around the world don’t see themselves represented in the entertainment industry both in front of and behind the camera, then Hollywood might lose out on a creator that has the potential to change the face of Hollywood. The moral of the story is, the more opportunities available to marginalized creatives, the more equal the playing field will be in the long run.
It is not a secret that up until five months ago, Hollywood was doing an overall poor job in taking action against the missed opportunities that marginalized creatives have experienced over the years. To combat this, the industry needs to focus in on advocacy or “walking the walk and talking the talk” as Octavia Spencer stated about Jessica Chastain. When Chastain found out about the pay gap that Spencer was receiving as a WOC, Chastain immediately set about righting the wrong and as a result “fast forward to last week, we’re making five times what we asked for” Spencer stated. This gesture shows how important it is to advocate for your fellow creatives, irregardless if your voice is marginalized or not. One of the most important things I have taken away from this #MeToo movement is action = advocacy. Without advocacy, Harvey Weinstein never would have been exposed, actors never would have started publicly disavowing Woody Allen and the Times Up movement wouldn’t have ever come into fruition.
This is a critical moment in Hollywood. The industry is planting seeds that can and will be reaped by creatives of the future. Even now, people have been trying to poison the harvest just as it is beginning to spread roots in the earth. It is up to everybody who has ever received joy or helped to spread that joy from or within the entertainment industry to advocate for the creatives of tomorrow. Only time will tell whether or not #TimesUp and #MeToo help the long enduring process of making Hollywood accessible for all regardless of race, gender, sexuality, country of origin, class etc. All we can do is to educate, advocate and provide for the future of our motion pictures and television shows. I live for the day when the content of our imagination truly takes precedence over what someone’s own idea of humanity looks like.
Edina Alix is a guest writer for Much Ado About Cinema. You can find her on instagram here. If you would like to contribute your own essay or review to the site, please email firstname.lastname@example.org, or use the contact form provided.