No black director, actor, actress, or producer was nominated for an Oscar this year and people are upset. We’ve got a right to be angry at the lack of black talent being recognized by the Academy, but we need to also look at the bigger picture. This isn’t just an issue with the Oscars- this is a systemic problem with the movie industry itself.
A report by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at USLA found that 83% of lead actors, 82% of directors, and 88% of writers in the movies that came out in 2013 were white. In 2014, 83 of the top 100 movies had a white lead or co-lead. Roughly three quarters of the actors in 2014 movies were white. More movies with black leads are being green-lit but it’s not enough.
To fix this, we need proof that movies with black talent can make money. Female driven comedies aren’t being green-lit because of Twitter outrage; they are being green-lit because Bridesmaids made $288 million at the US box office. The industry didn’t suddenly become less sexist, it just realized movies with strong women made money. The industry won’t suddenly become less racist, but it needs to realize movies with a black lead can also be blockbusters.
Many people would point to Straight Outta Compton as proof that a movie with black talent can be a blockbuster but it’s not the evidence studios are looking for. Straight Outta Compton is an important film, but we also need movies where races don’t play their stereotype. We need black actors in blockbusters where they aren’t just playing rappers. We don’t want the only movies up for Oscars with black talent to be about slavery or segregation. There’s nothing wrong with a movie ABOUT black culture. There’s nothing wrong with a Tyler Perry movie FOR black audiences. But it would be nice to see a movie WITH black talent where it’s not ABOUT black culture or only FOR black audiences.
The biggest strides are being made on TV. Shonda Rhimes created ratings juggernauts for ABC with strong black leads where the race of the protagonist is not the focus of the story.
But we can’t look at this as a black and white issue. The narrative right now is that black talent needs to be recognized but we need to also bring awareness to the lack of Asian and Latino talent on the big and small screen. People are outraged when black talent don’t get awards but Asian and Latino talent aren’t even given parts. I don’t think you can name 4 actors that are Asian. Try it. It is frustrating that black talent aren’t being recognized but it is appalling that Asian and Latino talent aren’t even considered.
So, how do we fix this? You can point your finger at the Academy but you can also call out studios. We need more movies with diverse casts (across the board) to be green-lit. We need color blind casting. And yes, we need awards to recognize deserving and diverse talent. We can call them out and make our voice heard with Tweets or with movie tickets. We don’t need to beg for diversity, we need to demand it.
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