Equality & Diversity
It's awards season in Hollywood and whereas normally this is a time for navel-gazing and back-slapping, something interesting has happened this year. Last year there was an outcry when all of the best actor/actress category nominees were white. This year it happened again and the outcry has grown to dominate the media regarding the Oscars and has, surprisingly, seemed to have forced some changes to the way the Academy decides the nominees.
There's been some interesting articles on the issues, which are really just a microcosm of the issues faced in all industries, but what has been most interesting is the blindness exhibited by some people. They're expressing views that are expressed by many people, but because they're famous their comments get published and get discussed in a way that rarely happens. It's fascinating seeing people like Charlotte Rampling put her foot in her mouth by saying that the discussion is actually 'racist to white people' and then not-apologises by saying that her 'comments could have been misinterpreted' despite not explaining really how that would be possible. Or Michael Caine saying that because it had taken him "years to get an Oscar", black actors should be patient, completely misunderstanding that one person waiting 'years' is in no way equivalent to an entire race* having to wait years for a single person to get an award. One article highlights comments from Cameron Bailey, artistic director of the Toronto film festival, who asked,
“If Rampling was willing to say this in a formal interview, how many in the film industry think it privately?”
The Oscars are an American institution but the fact that Rampling and Caine made such tone-deaf comments means that the discussion has broadened from being about the American film industry to including the British film industry as well, which has allowed the fact that the British industry is even less diverse than the US to get more publicity. The outcry has also led to a closer examination of the industry as a whole. There's increasing recognition that the industry is institutionally biased and comes hot on the heals of a report that shows that British primetime TV is still dominated by men. It seems that whether it's film TV or books, stories about white men are 'prestige' and of interest to everyone while stories about anyone else are 'niche' and aren't worthy of wider audiences.
*I'm hesitant to use the word 'race' as it's scientifically dubious (the Infinite Monkey Cage recently had an episode on race which was fascinating and showed that it's essentially bunk, but I don't know what else to use.
I like this article as it shows the complexity of the issues around diversity in Hollywood. The nuances are reminiscent of those seen in other fields where diversity is a problem: that the problems being discussed are trivial in comparison to other problems; that people just want be able to get on with their work, that calling people/institutions out isn't helping, and so on.
. . . caring about #OscarsSoWhite and caring about all the other issues black people both within and outside of the entertainment industry face are not mutually exclusive, nor can they be. Media affects how people think. How people think affects how people act. How people act causes all those other problems… it’s a vicious cycle, one that needs to be attacked on all fronts if it is to be stopped.
Quite. We are storytellers by nature, and stories are how we understand the world around us. If the majority of the stories we are told do not feature people like us, or feature stereotypes or negative portrayals of us, then that's how we understand our place in the world.
Diversity is more important in media than anything else because media is the lens through which we understand everything else.
While not about the oscars, I thought that this article said some interesting and important things that fit in well with this thread. It's by a writer who is fed up of the only films being made about black people being where they struggle against oppression.
I’m tired of white audiences falling over themselves to praise a film that has the courage and honesty to tell such a brutal story. When movies about slavery or, more broadly, other types of violence against black people are the only types of films regularly deemed “important” and “good” by white people, you wonder if white audiences are only capable of lauding a story where black people are subservient.
There's so much good stuff there that I wish I could quote it all. Instead I'd recommend reading the article. It's not that long and there's a lot of good stuff about how the lack of diversity in the story telling affects how black people are seen. It also ties in quite nicely to the Lady Science thread, as it's really calling for a plurality of stories which is what Suw is, quite rightly, calling for in terms of women in STEM.
Very interesting piece about slave movies, Fishnut. And she's spot on the money too. I'm white, and even I'm fed up of how many slave movies there are. I don't like miserable movies about oppression and suffering, and would dearly love to see some of the alternative stories she suggests!
The movie industry's glaring whiteness may be costing Hollywood millions of dollars. A new report from the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at the University of California-Los Angeles found that films with more diverse casts have higher global box office sales and a better return on investment than their less diverse counterparts.
The researchers examined 163 films released in 2014 and found that the films with truly diverse casts (there were only eight) also had the highest median global revenues and returns on investment. The median film among the 55 with mostly lily-white casts grossed less than half as much—and barely broke even
This is a really interesting joint interview with Lupita Nyong'o and Trevor Noah.
TN (Trevor Noah): When it comes to diversifying, I had never realized how ingrained people’s mentality can be. It’s not even conscious. When I was looking for new people to try on the show, the network sent out all their tentacles. And people sent in audition tapes. And 95 percent of them were white and male. I was like: Does nobody else want to be a part of this show? Does nobody else even want a job?
PG (Philip Galanes): What did you do?
TN: I said, “I want more diversity.” And they said, “But this is what we’re getting.” So I said, “Then I will go out and look for it in the street.”
LN (Lupita Nyong'o): However they were reaching out was not reaching into diverse communities.
TN: So I went to all the young comedians I knew — black, Hispanic, female, whatever — and I said, “Are you interested?” And they all said: “Are you crazy? Of course, I’m interested.” So I asked, “Why didn’t you audition?” And they said, “We didn’t know about it.” But they told me they’d sent it out to all the agents and managers. And they all went: “Oh, that’s where you made the mistake. We can’t get agents or managers.” We can say we want diversity, but there’s this little roadblock that no one tells you about.
I also found this interesting,
No one will be surprised that Hollywood is dominated by white men, but you might be surprised by just how incredibly boneheaded and callous those white men can be.
I am really disappointed to read this article. Not because it's a bad article - it's a good one and it's about a film I was looking forward to seeing but now think I may be giving it a pas. It's about the new Tiny Fey film, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. It's based on the true story of a female reporter who goes to Afghanistan. It had a great cast, interesting premise and should be worth seeing. Instead, according to the article, it falls into all the worst stereotypes and tropes and even has white actors playing Afghans.
Why do they keep doing this????
Noooo! I was looking forward to that!
Man, and I really like Tina Fey. Disappointed.
I know, I think there's a lot of disappointed people. It was on my 'to watch' list but has been taken off. I want to support films about women but if they're going to fall into tired stereotypes and favour browning-up white actors instead of taking the time to get the proper diversity then that doesn't deserve my support. I am, however, reading the book which is so far rather good.
So, a bit of book-to-film weirdness... The Girls With All The Gifts is a Mike Carey book, a post-apocalypse story of a young girls, Melanie, who is taught in a class with some other children, but kept under very tight control so that she has no contact with the others. She lives in a cell, and is sometimes treated badly by her captors. Her teacher, Helen Justineau, is maybe a bit too empathic, sympathising with her plight.
It's now being made into a film. Yay! It's a great book, which I devoured in no time at all and loved.
The weird thing is, in the book, I'm Melanie is a white girl and Helen is black... in the movie, they have reversed this, and Melanie is black whilst Helen is white. Which might not seem like a big deal, but it means that the most sympathetic character, Helen, is white instead of black, and the actually rather less sympathetic Melanie, (and I can't say why she's not the person you're supposed to empathise with, because that's a bit of a spoiler), is black.
So this switcheroo is not quite as benign as it might seem, as it makes the emotional focus of the film white instead of black.
...we Googled our way to 8,000 screenplays and matched each character’s lines to an actor. From there, we compiled the number of words spoken by male and female characters across roughly 2,000 films, arguably the largest undertaking of script analysis, ever.
In January 2016, researchers reported that men speak more often than women in Disney’s princess films. We validated this claim and doubled the sample size to 30 Disney films, including Pixar. The results: 22 of 30 Disney films have a male majority of dialogue. Even films with female leads, such as Mulan, the dialogue swings male. Mushu, her protector dragon, has 50% more words of dialogue than Mulan herself.
Really fascinating if depressing look at how film roles are split by gender. Also takes a look at age.
Good bit on #toofemale furore:
A few months back, CBS announced that they were proceeding with a Nancy Drew inspired television show. Despite performing well with pilot audiences, CBS axed the show on the basis that was "too skewed female". In other words, not enough men liked the show to warrant a spot in CBS's lining. As a response, #TooFemale and #CBS were trending on Twitter that day.
Related: Men sabotage online ratings for TV-shows aimed at women:
Ratings on the internet are inherently specious, and ratings aggregated from user reviews even more so. To distill a work of art down to a single number, you have to strip out an immense amount of meaning and context.
And for a perfect example of this, all you have to do is look at how men rate TV shows aimed at women compared with how women rate shows aimed at men. When you rely on the wisdom of the crowd on the internet, you risk relying on the opinion of mostly men.2 Seventy percent of IMDb TV show raters are men, according to my analysis, and that results in shows with predominantly female audiences getting screwed.
A few stories I've collected on racism in Hollywood:
Casting minorities as white characters is not a double standard. Here's why.
A really good pictorial explanation of why, as the headline says, casting minorities as white characters is not a double standard.
Hollywood’s gender-swapping problem: It looks like progress for actresses — but women of color are still mostly shut out
I feel this is a good companion piece to the previous story.
How “Nina” Became A Disaster Movie
The problems with "Nina" are mentioned in the previous story. This article goes into a great deal of detail explaining just how such a tone-deaf biopic came to be made by well-meaning but seemingly oblivious producers.
Dear Hollywood: fix your damn race problem
An excellent open letter explaining why the race problem exists and how it should be fixed.
So the Doctor Strange trailer is out
This is an absolutely brilliant piece, written from the heart but still full of cast-iron logic. It explains not only why the casting of Dr Strange as a white guy is lazy but about how much substance could have been gained by casting him as Asian.
I thought this was a really interesting article,
The Rise and Fall of an All-American Catchphrase: 'Free, White, and 21'
This part in particular caught my attention,
Why, [journalist Walter L. Lowe] wondered, would studios keep using a phrase that was “unfair,” “unsportsmanlike,” and, with “3,000,000 colored American moving picture lovers,” likely unprofitable? The saying, he concluded, “cannot substantially add anything to the pleasure of white moving picture-goers,” yet it “can detract considerably from the serenity and the pleasure of the colored people.”
So often when we complain about the lack of women or minorities in films people counter by saying that film-makers are in the business of making money and if it was more profitable for them to have more inclusive demographics they would do. This seems to belie that argument. Even when it's clear that they do things that alienate potential audiences they'll continue, even when there's no benefit to doing so. It's inertia and myopia, not good business.
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