Former Academy President Hawk Koch Issues Diversity Challenge to Industry

Hawk Koch and Dawn Hudson
Jim Smeal/BEI/BEI/Shutterstock

Hawk Koch Calls for Film Industry to Push Diversity

Hawk Koch, producer of films such as “Source Code” and “Gorky Park,” served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2012-13. In this open letter, he issues to a challenge to members of every branch of the industry to find a way to create more opportunities for diverse talent.

I am a former President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and volunteer on several committees, although I am no longer on the Board of Governors and have no governing powers. After working for more than 50 years in the entertainment business, I have an abiding passion for the work we do. This personal letter arises out of that passion.

Lately I – along with many others – have been thinking long and hard about the dearth of diversity within our industry. I say “our industry” because I don’t believe this is just an Academy problem rather it’s an industry-wide problem and up until now we have not done a very good job. And while I also don’t believe this problem can be solved quickly, I know that it can and should be solved…with effort by every single one of us but, it must be addressed immediately.

One such effort is the suggestion of an Oscar boycott. While such an idea shines a necessary light on the issue, now more than ever we have the responsibility to actively work together to fix the problem with concrete steps. “How do we do that?”

I know that many programs already exist but, clearly our industry needs to do more to find and develop talent in all the crafts. We must work with the Unions and the Guilds as well as schools across the country to identify and cultivate the talent of African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, women, LGBTs, the disabled and all under represented groups. And then we have to allow them access to every single aspect of filmmaking.

We are an industry of creative people, people! We should be able to use the very thing Idris Elba mentioned in his powerful speech to the British Parliament — our imagination. He also mentioned that the world is full of talented people whose only problem – and it’s a big one — is lack of opportunity.

I want to personally challenge each and every branch of our industry — production, designers, cinematographers, sound mixers, editors, composers, makeup artists, hair stylists, casting directors, publicists, attorneys, agents,
managers, animators, visual effects, writers, directors, producers, executives — to form committees whose sole purpose would be to imagine and create programs to extend opportunities to those without it.

To you, the individual reading this letter, can you imagine a way to extend a hand or create an opportunity in your particular area of expertise to someone who might not otherwise have access? And if you can, are you willing to take the next step by participating in making our industry wider, broader, more colorful and far more inclusive than it is today…what it should be!

After all my years in the industry, I know the quality of its’ members and I trust that you will.

(Pictured: Hawk Koch and Dawn Hudson, CEO of AMPAS)

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  1. anonymous says:

    I think each branch should follow the lead of the documentary branch set by Michael Moore. He went back in time and let all the valid and qualified documentarians who had been kept out for decades into the Academy, actually judiciously and thoughtfully considering the impact of all of their work, and smashing a wrench in the old status quo. More of that, please.

  2. A bunch or old white dudes…totally out of sync with the real America. What else should we expect. I go to see most movies but I never watch this awards show.

  3. It has been our pleasure for the last 24 years to create a terrific, young minority talent pool of crew members that is accessed by many television and feature productions. We at Streetlights take sharp, ambitious African Americans, Latinos, Asian, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders, over-train them, then get them a slew of work as P.A.s so they can solidify some contacts in this freelance industry. We have helped many advance into higher positions, including Unions, while still filling the daily requests we get for our PA.s. We hope productions aren’t requesting our graduates just because they are of a different race, but because they are fantastic production assistants.
    As a producer back in the day, I noticed there was absolutely no diversity on any of my crews and said, “Well this is an easy fix. I’ll start by training P.A.s and they can eventually grow into whatever department best suits them. And they did – Camera, Wardrobe, Writer, etc. But there are still not enough of them!

    I love you, Mr. Koch for mentioning all the other departments that badly need some multicultural influence — not just in front of the camera

  4. Stella says:

    Very well said!! I agree 100% and the Oscars need to take a page out of the Bafta awards book. Oddly enough they do not have these issues over there.

    • Dex says:

      Bravo, Mr. Koch!
      However, an equally large challenge is finding out how the SAG committee managed to embrace your vision of fairness and equality while the regressive Academy failed to do so.

  5. Donna says:

    Thank you for your letter. The point is that the Oscars are a competition with winners and others, I oppose changing anything. Instead, encourage everyone in the industry to find movies and roles they want and that matter. One year it is about few roles for women and this year, well… You don’t hear Tarantino complaining or Samuel Jackson.

  6. Robert says:

    Can you see in relevance in this? :

    The NBA is 74.4 percent Black. 23 percent White. 1.8 percent Latino, .2percent Asian. Would it surprise you that there have been many seasons that have only awarded the top honors to Black players? MVPs, Defensive-players-of the-year, and 6th-Man-of-the-year, Rookie-of-the-year, and Most-improved player? In other words, no other race included in the top awards. Is it fair to say that, by your logic, there is a dire need for diversification within this competition? Should they add more positions to include other races? Or should they not hire a certain number of Black players in order to make room for others that are not given the chance because they are not the “prototypical athlete?” Is there another option?

    It’s an interesting way to look at it since the demographic breakdown is essentially reversed.

  7. Sonja says:

    Hiring more TALENTED minority’s NOT just based on race. The point is there are a lot of talented people in the world far and wide and they just haven’t gotten an opportunity to even get in the room to show what they do. There are roles that are interchangeable and can be played not only by one such race. The industry needs to be more open minded when casting and studios need to green light more films with and by minority’s that are not just what is considered the BLACK film. For instance Idris Elba and Taragi P. Henton’s film, No Good Deed was a number one film but was not a Black film any one could of played those roles. We need diversity like this across the board.

  8. Robert says:

    While I am among the “minority” that would stand to benefit from this new approach, I honestly have to wonder what this would mean for those non-minority people who are already in line for the same work? Are they now less desirable because of their skin color and presumed privilege?

    As with the Oscars, there are only “so many” positions available. Who, of the list of “best actor nominees,” is not deserving of their current nomination (due to their skin color)? How can anyone answer this question? Obviously this is a tough subject to deal with since someone is going to be left out. The question is, are we all willing to mandate nominations and/or hiring based on race?

    There is also something a little CONDESCENDING about this idea that hiring more minorities will automatically result in other minorities being hired (or nominated). This is either implying that minorities are “more fair” and “less influenced by skin color” OR that minorities, by default, will include other minorities regardless of deservedness. Neither description is a “fair” summarization.

    Personally, I’m going to hire the “Best” person for the project regardless of color, because I want the best for the project and want to work with the best. I realize that this presumes that everyone is given a “fair” shot at proving their worth, but this is the problem for everyone. Swapping one unfair situation for another one isn’t a good solution.

    Actual Data is needed for us to really evaluate what is happening and how we should proceed.

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