All the talk about #OscarsSoWhite won’t simply end when Chris Rock hosts the ceremony on Feb. 28. It’s clear that drastic changes must be implemented fairly soon in order to avoid a third consecutive Academy Awards sans any acting nominees of color.
Still, for all the promises made by the Academy to diversify its membership, and calls for blacks to become more proactive and start their own studios, I find it disturbing that many of Hollywood’s most prominent white celebrities have remained largely silent concerning the issue. Those who have spoken out, such as Julie Delpy and Charlotte Rampling, were offensively flippant and particularly clueless to the layered complexities of the racial issues at hand. Others have offered the same tired lip service to the need for diversity that’s been used for the past 50 years.
Industry heavyweights like George Clooney and Matt Damon, who have enormous influence both in front of and behind the camera, have the power to initiate changes required to create a more minority-friendly Hollywood. But are they really prepared to do that?
Perhaps they should engage in a dialogue with their fellow actor-producer Brad Pitt on the subject of diversity. Pitt has used his considerable clout in the industry to help produce pivotal films such as “12 Years a Slave,” which won Oscars for best picture, adapted screenplay (John Ridley) and supporting actress (Lupita Nyong’o). The film helped catapult Nyong’o to bona-fide international stardom, and made her a fashion icon with major endorsement deals. In 2014, Pitt executive produced the civil rights film “Selma” and approved the hiring of indie director Ava DuVernay, who became the first African-American woman nominated for a Golden Globe for director.
To achieve real diversity, Hollywood has to be rewired from the inside out, which requires much more than studio executives finally seeing the light. Change will require major white celebrities recognizing and fighting alongside minorities for more varied storylines and faces of color on the big screen. They need to hire black and Latino writers, directors and actors for their projects. The old cliche of not finding any people of color qualified for those positions can be quashed by simply ending the decades-old Hollywood practice of the preferential hiring of friends and family as interns, PAs and assistants. Recruit some young people of color to learn the ropes, watch them bloom, and see the industry change for the better. This isn’t rocket science; it’s a simple commitment to the reality that most films are focused on some version of real life, and real life doesn’t just happen to white people.
Author and cultural critic Allison Samuels has written for Vanity Fair, Newsweek and Rolling Stone.