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What Hollywood Needs to Do to Make Real Progress in Diversity (Guest Column)

Hidden Figures
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

If 2016 was #OscarSoWhite, then 2017 is perhaps #OscarSoWhiteNoMore.

But is that enough?

Does this ebullience feel familiar? It should. In 2008, many of us basked in the glow of an election that told us “Yes We Can.” We held the promise of a future that bore little resemblance to a shameful past tightly in our hands. Collectively, many of us exhaled.

Now, with the election of 2016, we find progress elusive, and we must come to terms with the fact that, as a country, our belief in our better selves may not have been entirely warranted.

The Academy took a lot of flak this past year as it diversified its membership. For some members, their sense of right and wrong was jostled, and they opposed the new rules out of fear of losing their lifetime right to vote. Others suffered indignation over what they perceived were changes that favored optics over merit. It was a tense time, as is always the case when entitlements are lost.

Often, when we support the “right” causes and candidates, we fail to recognize that with progress comes sacrifice. That sacrifice might mean that you are no longer the obvious choice for the job. Your job security may no longer be a given. You might lose your position at the top of all the lists. Then, the question becomes: “How much is progress worth to you?”

Yes, we should celebrate this Oscar season, but if we rest on our laurels and fail to see the enormous job still to be done, then our progress will be fleeting, and we will face a future that can easily look more like our past — perhaps the cinematic equivalent is “Make Movies Great Again.”

So let’s ensure that all of these newly minted Academy members have a variety of movies on which they can vote. Let’s tell stories that look like the world in which we live. Let’s encourage and empower the voices of those who might see the world in a way that is different from the ways in which it is traditionally presented.

The best illustration of that is this year’s nominee “Hidden Figures.” The question on everyone’s lips has been, “How did I not know that story?” Well, the answer is simple.

For the most part, our cinematic exploration of the space program has been limited to the white men who went and the white men on the ground who got them there. Women, no matter their real-life roles, have mostly been minor characters or have totally disappeared in favor of the men who are perceived to be the heroes.

Such stories come to the forefront when more decision-makers are women, people of color, and those with points of view that are not your own.

So, if you need to be reminded that your creative lists should be inclusive, then you are the problem, not the lists.

If the people you hire need to be reminded that their choices should reflect the world at large, then you hired the wrong people.

While it is too often how change happens, we must move beyond being shamed into doing the right thing. Because systemic change happens only if you believe the system is broken and you will be better off after it is fixed.

In the words of Dr. King, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Our only hope for seeing that justice is for all of us — the creatives, the representatives, and the dealmakers — to view our daily decisions as the steps that will bring us closer to that ideal.

Nina Shaw is a talent attorney and a founding partner at Del Shaw Moonves Tanaka Finkelstein and Lezcano. Her clients include current Academy Award nominees Ava DuVernay (“13th”) and Raoul Peck (“I Am Not Your Negro”).