Wednesday, February 10, 2016

USA Today: Jesse Jackson: Hollywood, it's time to flip the script on diversity

For the second year in a row, no actor or actress of color has been nominated for an Academy Award. That is a shameful streak. But the growing outcry over the whitewashing of the prestigious golden statue and the industry it celebrates is a sign of at least some progress.
There’s a new consciousness emerging. Twenty years ago when the Rainbow PUSH Coalition protested the almost total lack of Oscar diversity — only one out of 166 nominees was African American in 1996 — our efforts were met largely with indifference and ridicule by even some of the very minority performers we were championing. Many of the same people, who fought so hard for a King Holiday and to Free Mandela, were not willing to free themselves. But the times they are a-changing.
Today, some of the biggest names in show business — black and white — are speaking up and out about what amounts to Hollywood Apartheid. They are stars such as Jada Pinkett Smith, Spike Lee and Danny DeVito, who recently told the Associated Press that “we’re living in a country that discriminates”and that the nomination process was an “example of the fact that even though some people have given great performances in movies, they weren’t even thought about.”
And today, an African-American woman, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, heads the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which has announced sweeping changes meant to diversify its overwhelmingly white and male membership. The changes include a commitment to double the number of women and minorities in the academy by 2020.
I applaud President Boone Isaacs and the 51-member board of governors. But the lack of diversity starts long before the stars pose and parade on the red carpet come Oscar night.
The people who can “greenlight” a film, the people who make the key decisions about what and who the world will see at the local multiplex, are almost all white and all male. The Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA reviewed the top 200 theatrical film releases in 2012 and 2013 and found that 94% of the film studio heads were white, according to the center’s "2015 Hollywood Diversity Report:Flipping the Script."
Film studio senior management was 92% white and 83% male; studio unit heads were 96% white and 61% male. The story and the color was much the same in television. TV network and studio heads were 96% white and 71% male.
“From the earliest days of the industry,” the report says, “white males have dominated the plum positions in front of and behind the camera, thereby marginalizing women and minorities in the creative process by which a nation circulates popular stories about itself.”
“What’s new,” the report adds, “is that business as usual in the Hollywood industry may soon be unsustainable.”
By midcentury, America will be a majority minority country. But it is already clear that diversity is good for business. Films with diverse casts, according to the Bunche Center report, enjoyed the highest median global box-office receipts and the highest median return on investment.

Indeed, the movie that broke box office records around the world in 2015, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, stars a white woman and a black man.

Open your eyes, Hollywood. It’s time to flip the script.

Source: USA Today

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