In the COVID era, we have been forced to rethink everything. So I’m proposing another reinvention: New ways of using awards to protest Hollywood’s lack of diversity.
Of course the protests must continue, carrying on the important work that #OscarsSoWhite did to revolutionize Hollywood starting in 2015.
It’s time to add another step. Protesters should link up with organizations that gather hiring statistics, such as USC’s Annenberg School, the Women’s Media Center, the NAACP and GLAAD. Those stats are key: They offer numbers about how much progress is/isn’t being made. Unfortunately, tallies for awards voting — Oscars, Golden Globes, BAFTA and the guilds — are always kept secret, so it involves a lot of guesswork on how people voted. And guesses are less effective than hard facts.
The biggest problem with protesting nominations or winners is that it puts the burden of change on awards voters — and takes the heat off the people who should be pressured: those in a position to hire.
Here are some reminders:
• Nov. 21, 1956: Variety ran a letter from Thurgood Marshall, who was then-special counsel to the NAACP (before his tenure on the Supreme Court). He hoped for “the wider use” of underutilized Black actors. (In other words, this has been going on for 60 years!)
• March 17, 1970: A group led by Ricardo Montalban formed Nosotros, intended to “solve the injustice involved in the hiring of Spanish-surnamed personnel in the industry.”
• Oct. 29, 1976: Variety ran a full-page ad from Asian Americans headlined “We are not all alike: sinister villains, China dolls, waiters, laundrymen! We must be fairly considered for all roles.” It was signed by 100 individuals and as many supporters.
• June 15, 1993: A five-year study by the Writers Guild of America West “shows that the industry is not making any great strides in terms of overcoming racism, sexism and ageism,” with statistics to back up the claims.
There have also been decades of protests by LGBTQ groups, people with disabilities, Native Americans, and many others.
Showbiz execs have a history of token hiring, creating committees and workshops to address the situation, and then returning to old habits. So yes, keep protesting.
One problem with using award nominations/wins as evidence — there is no evidence. With Oscars, for example, we know the top five vote-getters in each category, but who came in No. 6-20?
Last year, there was lamenting over the all-male director category. But did Greta Gerwig of “Little Women” miss out by one vote? Or did voters completely shut her out? We don’t know.
The second problem is that we’re challenging people’s tastes, as if that’s a measure of Hollywood’s wokeness. The five Oscar-nominated 2019 directors were Bong Joon Ho, Sam Mendes, Todd Phillips, Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino; all had big fans, so you can’t say anyone stole her nomination. It’s like going to a restaurant with friends and telling them they ordered the wrong meal. If that’s what they want, it’s not wrong. But even if every voter chose “the right meal,” it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t result in more jobs.
There’s another reason to focus on hiring instead of nominations. This year, there is likely to be a lot of diversity in “marquee” categories, thanks to “Nomadland,” “One Night in Miami,” “Minari,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Sound of Metal,” “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” etc. If they get nominations, many people can be lulled into thinking that inclusion has been resolved.
Before Oscar noms are announced March 15, protesters should gather statistics about Hollywood hiring since the 2015 start of the #OscarsSoWhite movement. And they should notify journalists in advance that they have relevant stats, which can be unveiled on nomination day. That taps into awards hoopla but keeps the pressure on those who hire, not on the voters.
#OscarsSoWhite has accomplished a lot. Five years later, we should be seeing changes in Hollywood hiring. It’s important to discover if that’s the case.