Congressman Hank Johnson

Representing the 4th District of Georgia

As Oscars Turn 90, Progress in Diversity But More Work Needed (Daily Kos)

March 2, 2018
Editorial
March 2, 2018

As we prepare to take in the Academy Awards, which turn 90 on Sunday, a recent report from UCLA shows while we’ve made some progress with diversity in Hollywood, we have long way to go.

When the Oscar nominations came out in 2015, not a single actor nominated for any lead or supporting role was a person of color.

The #OscarsSoWhite movement that followed birthed a groundswell of opposition to media leadership structures that seemed to only place value in telling white stories.

Inspired by this national conversation, I engaged with MPAA and television and media groups and helped found the bipartisan Congressional Caucus for Advancement of Studio, Talent (CAST) and Film Diversity.

Our goal is to raise awareness of the lack of diversity in the film and television industries and seek solutions to the problem at every level. Our focus is not only on the faces we see on screen but those writing the scripts, operating the cameras, and assisting with all levels of the production process.

Non-white actors have been recognized for their phenomenal work. For the first time in a long time, diverse directors are among the many filmmakers, producers and screenwriters who showed us that stories developed and written by people other than white men give us valuable lenses through which to see life and a more accurate portrayal of what it means to be a human being.

2018 has shown us that progress is possible.

I am encouraged to see diversity in this year’s Oscar nominees. I am especially proud of the film “Get Out,” and its success in bringing the discussion of race to the national spotlight.

From Daniel Kaluuya to Octavia Spencer, many non-white actors have been recognized for their phenomenal work. Directors Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig are among the many filmmakers, producers and screenwriters who showed us that stories developed and written by people other than white men give us valuable lenses through which to see life and a more accurate portrayal of what it means to be a human being.

In September 2017, I hosted two panels during the Congressional Black Caucus’s Annual Legislative Conference (CBCALC) on the issue of minority representation in the entertainment industry. These were just some of the many discussions I’ve had with industry executives, filmmakers, actors and the public about systemic obstacles to greater diversity on and off the screen and stage.

One of the main arguments against prioritizing and incentivizing diversity in acting roles is that movies with non-white leads do not create stories that are widely relatable, profitable, or internationally successful. I’d like to hear someone make that case about my home state of Georgia and the $90 million dollars we brought in from the production of “Black Panther.”

“Black Panther,” a movie written and directed by a black man, starring a largely black cast, about both the African and African-American experience, made $427 million worldwide in the first four days, $185 million of which came from international profits.

The 2017 movie “Girls Trip” is another example of diversity reaching recent record-breaking success. “Girls Trip” was the first movie written, directed, and produced by African Americans to make over $100 million in ticket sales. It also featured an all-black and all-female lead cast and catapulted breakout star Tiffany Haddish to stardom.

No longer can studio executives claim that continuing to hire from the same canon of white movie stars is a profit-driven choice. No longer is there an excuse to only fund movies about white stories on the basis that they are more comfortable or relatable to viewers.

Representative stories are more than well received, and studios should lunge at the opportunity to meet the growing demand. The progress we have made since 2015 must continue, and we have to tackle it from every angle.

As I mentioned earlier, UCLA’s “Hollywood Diversity Report 2018” looked at movies and television shows from 2015-2016 and clearly shows that we still have work to do to meet the goal of including women and minorities on screen.

The report says, “Overall, people of color remained underrepresented, considering they were 40% of the U.S. population in 2016. A total of 13.9% of the year's film leads were people of color. On TV, 18.7% of scripted broadcast leads, 20.2% of scripted cable leads and 12.9% of scripted digital leads were people of color.”

I pledge to continue raising these issues in Congress, and I am determined to lend my platform to the work begun by so many activists and actors around the country. In a political climate where the voices and stories of minorities are not only squelched but twisted, we need to work that much harder to ensure they are not silenced.

People of all creeds and colors want to see themselves represented in roles that inspire us, define us and uplift us. Diversity is America’s strength. Those telling our most important stories about culture and society through art should reflect just how diverse and strong we are.

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