As we speak I’m in the airport heading to Los Angeles to cover the Oscars.
Remember, just a few weeks back we discussed the return of the Oscars so white hashtag?
Well, it may be time to replace that hashtag with Hollywood so white.
John Oliver took on the subject on his HBO show last weekend, pointing out how even when the character is of color, white actors are more often than not cast to play them.
“Yes, there’s no shortage of roles for white actors playing non-white characters. The historically figure you’re playing wasn’t right? Not a problem. The contemporary figure you’re playing wasn’t right? Not a problem. The cartoon the movie was based on was entirely about non-white people? Not a problem. Your characters are named Esteban and Clara True Ava in the Isabelle Allende novel the movie is based on? Right this way Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep. (Laughter)”
But the problem is no joke and a new study backs it up.
The USC Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism research shows the diversity issue is far deeper than just the Oscars, far deeper than race – both on and off screen.
Between September of 2014 and August of 2015, the comprehensive study looked at 414 films and television shows.
People of color were cast in speaking roles in only 28% of those 414 productions.
Only a third of the speaking roles went to women.
A meager 2 percent went to members of the LGBT community.
The study also shows that television is the most diverse medium while movies fall at the rock bottom.
Stacey L. Smith, an author of the study, says blame longstanding myths about what makes movies successful at the box office.
“There’s a reluctance to look at these box office blockbusters and make changes. Right, this is a risk-adverse industry and they do what is comfortable and what is safe because there’s such a high price point on the line. But when you start looking down the list year after year whether it’s “Hunger Games”, or “Pitch Perfect” or “Fast and Furious” we see that inclusion is performing at the box office. I think largely there’s a pipe line problem and the Oscars are at the end of that pipeline.”
Smith says the problem is more of an inclusion problem rather than a diversity problem; and there needs to be “more directors from under represented racial and ethnic groups hired, women being hired behind the camera and a value placed on inclusive stories.”
More proof of that comes from data collected about those who work behind the camera.
Only 13% of 407 directors were from an underrepresented minority group.
And check this out, only two of filmmakers were women, Ava DuVernay of “Selma” and Amma Asante of “Belle.”
The idea that films about or starring people of color are risky box office is a myth.
In 2010 Mo’Nique won Best Supporting Actress for her performance in the movie “Precious”.
That film grossed over $63 million, more than six times the amount of its budget.
“12 Years a Slave” grossed over 180-million dollars in 2014.
It was also the first film directed, produced and written by an African-American to win an Oscar for Best Picture.
“Straight Outta Compton” is the most successful musical bio-pic in history, helping Universal break a speed record for passing $2 billion in domestic ticket sales in just one year.
And let’s not forget last year’s highest grossing film “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” where a black actor and a woman were among the main characters!
If money talks, maybe Hollywood isn’t listening?