BY RHIANNA LACHHMAN
Growing up as a young person of colour, I was always fascinated by the wondrous world of Hollywood. I was captivated by pop culture and obsessed with all the biggest movies and tv shows. From every cover of magazines to the leading performers in the newest films to academy award-winning actors and filmmakers, at a young age I began to recognize one common pattern, nobody looks like me. A lot of those at the forefront of Hollywood are almost all White. Leaving me to come to the harsh realization that I may love the world of Hollywood, but it seemingly does not love me back. I know that this is a story that is probably incredibly common if you’re a kid of colour who is immersed in the media. So, let’s take a deeper dive into the diversity of Hollywood, or lack thereof, and ways the industry can diversify from here on out.
Although the world of Hollywood has opened its doors to more minority talent since it began making films in the 1910s, that does not make it a diverse place. Considering the fact that UCLA reported that there are 3x as many white actors as actors of colour in 2018, and in the following year (2019), UCLA reported that 27.6% of film leads were minorities while 72.4% were white, it’s safe to say that diversity in Hollywood still has a long way to go. Now, many may argue that actors are hired based on their talent and not their appearance, though only 25% of successful actors in Hollywood are people of colour. This means that this percentage should be higher if talent was the only factor to success in Hollywood, right? However, let’s remember that films are not only made by the actors and famous faces plastered on their movie posters, there are screenwriters, directors, producers, and many more people who work behind the scenes to make a movie or series what it is. This means that it is also important to have a diverse behind-the-scenes crew to diversify the Hollywood industry. Sadly, the story of a lack of diversity can be told the same off-camera as it is shown on screen. UCLA reports that women and minorities are outnumbered 3 to 1 compared to white men when it comes to behind-the-scenes work. In 2019, there were 13.9% minority film writers compared to 86.1% white film writers and 14.6% minority film directors compared to 85.4% white directors. Well, just by looking at the stats, it’s clear that there is work to do all around in the flawed system that is Hollywood. Why has it turned out this way? Why does Hollywood keep on sweeping its diversity problem under the rug?
Well, to be quite frank, Hollywood is lazy. People working in the industry deliberately avoid diverse casting so that they do not have to take the time to create culturally diverse storylines in movies or tv shows, or give a minority character a subplot that ties into their ethnic background. Hollywood fails to recognize that you can acknowledge a character’s ethnicity without completely transforming the overall storyline. This could be a reason that people working behind the scenes, ( casting directors, producers, writers, directors, and more) choose to simply not cast people of colour in the media. Now, it is not like Hollywood never casts non-white actors, but Hollywood has a pretty repetitive track record of pushing its minority characters to the side and making them less interesting than their white counterparts. Cultural diversity is about giving all races an equal chance to shine.
A mistake that Hollywood is notorious for making, is creating a minority character to be the white lead’s “best friend”. These characters are usually only meant to accompany the white lead and never outshine them or are given their own storyline, background, and individuality. While it is great to see a person of colour shown on screen, it is also discouraging to never get to see them become a full-fledged character, rather than just the lead’s sidekick. Hollywood also has a history of casting minority actors to play token stereotypes of their ethnic background. This is extremely problematic as it leads more people to believe in certain stereotypes which not only reinforces racism but is completely counterproductive to solving the Hollywood diversity problem.This is why we need to hire more screenwriters, directors, producers, casting directors, and more behind-the-scenes talent that are people of colour. People working behind the scenes have the power to give minority talent the stories and the proper representation they deserve. They also have the ability to tell their own diverse stories and chances are they will be more likely to make sure that their work possesses the representation Hollywood is lacking. As a matter of fact, minority directors are actually 17% more likely to have a diverse cast in their work than white directors. So, you may be wondering to yourself, why is diversity so important anyway? What can be done in order to make the change we want to see on screen?
Diversity is incredibly crucial to Hollywood because minorities and their stories need to have representation in the media. Young children of all races should be able to see characters that look like them in movies and tv shows that are shaping their childhood. It is our responsibility to help kids recognize that their story is one worthy of being told. If children don’t see people who look like them or their ethnic background in the media, then it sends across two messages. One, that their culture is not interesting enough for Hollywood, and two, Hollywood and film are not a place for people who look like them and they should steer clear of those career paths. Nobody should ever need to limit their dreams or feel less important because of the colour of their skin.
So what are some ways the industry can get out of its diversity rut? One way this can happen is by allowing the entertainment industry to establish networks and programs to allow people of colour to make their way into Hollywood. These programs can help mentor minorities looking to break into the industry, whether they would like to work on or off the screen. Research finds that networks like these are likely to have long-lasting effects in Hollywood’s diversity sector. According to Forbes magazine, one of the most effective ways of expanding diversity is for studios and networks to create committees, hiring plans, and staff positions that are specifically meant to seek cultural diversity in the projects being produced. Companies can have specific employment recruiters that can create a diverse casting of people behind the scenes and on the screen as well. After all, diversity is more likely to be found when it is being sought out in the first place. Networks can also be sure to hire casting-directors that have a strong record of casting people of colour to play promising roles, in order to ensure that minorities are true chances for their talent to flourish on screen. As mentioned before, more individuals that handle the behind-the-scenes work in the film industry need to also be of colour, as there is more of a chance they will have a diverse cast and storyline. However, the white filmmakers and executives (that already have opportunities that minorities aren’t getting) need to use their privileges to help diversify the media. The reality is, those already at the top are the ones that hold the greatest ability to make a change they are the ones that need to listen to other people’s voices and use their power to help make a real improvement.
When all is said and done, I believe that Hollywood can continue to evolve in its diversity department and that the future of film is one that will eventually include everybody. As a person of colour, I have confidence when saying that this “new” Hollywood will happen sooner than later, I have hope that I will be able to see someone who looks like me and other brilliant minorities starring in the latest blockbuster film, headlining the newest issues of magazines, and winning groundbreaking awards in the industry. Though, in order for this to happen, we must take the necessary steps in the right direction in order to move forward. Everybody has a role to play when increasing cultural diversity in the media. With that being said, the industry as a whole needs to recognize the importance of representation, realize that more must be done, and lead us into the pathway of change. Hollywood’s diversity story is one that can be rewritten so that one-day conversations like these can become issues of the past.
The Lack of Cultural Diversity in Hollywood
2020 Hollywood Diversity Report: A different story behind the scenes
Hollywood's Diversity Problem: Breaking Down the Casting Process