If Hollywood Really Wants to Fix Its Diversity Issue, Ask Brad Pitt (Guest Column)

12 Years a Slave
Snap Stills/REX Shutterstock

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.

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  1. anthony says:

    Please stop with all this white and back so called issues. The Academy Awards and to that point any other award institution; the recognition of an actor’s works is because of his or hers talent that is performed in that film! The statement that: “director Ava DuVernay, who became the first African-American woman nominated for a Golden Globe for director.”; is insulting to any voting member in whatever venue that voted for because that person was black!! Any award institution with the membership that votes and is and has been respected because the votes are deserved because of the talent in that specific category! The Academy and other respected award venues are not about being voted the school presidency because of a popularity contest. Please STOP with all this white and black. What about this past Grammy Awards? Not too many white artist, the majority were blacks. Is it fair to suggest reverse discrimination?

    • GKN says:

      This. Yes to more diversity, but all this belly-aching is beginning to sound a bit puerile when “12 Years a Slave” and “Lee Daniels’ Butler” swept all kinds of Oscar, BAFTA, Golden Globe and SAG noms and awards (among others) just two years ago! And why single out Damon and Clooney as somehow failing us for not not taking up your particular crusade?

      We all know Damon/ Affleck only finally broke through by writing a good film for themselves, and slogging it through the system all the way to getting it produced – much like Nate Parker did with “Birth of a Nation” this year. Spike Lee did the same to launch his career, among most others who have “made it”. It’s no small feat. So please stop degrading them, and yourselves, with these ‘when do we get our handouts” arguments – because that’s the effect it’s beginning to make at this point.

  2. Donna says:

    Based on the accompanying comments, it is obvious that some black performers will never be satisfied. . Get out there and go for better roles and don’t accept less. Make your mark in a positive rather than continuing to tear down others’ successes. Their success can be yours, too.

  3. tony says:

    A slave movie and a civil rights movie, wow such originality and courage to support storylines like those.
    If the material proposed had been more daring and challenging to establishment perceptions would Pitt have eagerly participated or would he be just another parrot saying the issue needs to be discussed?

  4. DougW says:

    The only way to avoid years where there are no minority acting nominees is to have a quota. Believe it or not, some years an actor of color doesn’t deliver one of the 20 best film performances in the world.

  5. cheryl says:

    You want someone to ask a cheater, liar, about anything, And it is not what that went on with Angela ,it is how he did it. Both make people sick.

  6. MiteT says:

    Because Brad Pitt is a bad MoFo that is interested in telling a great story, not just the story he thinks “everyone” wants to hear.

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