Affirmative Action In Hollywood

REUTERS/Fred Prouser

Unless you live in North Korea you’ve heard about the Oscar dustup and hash tag #OscarsSoWhite. The Academy, in an unprecedented move has decided to diversify their ranks amid a celebrity lead outcry that for the second year in a row the top 20 slots of Oscar nominees are white. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Friday they will institute an affirmative action program and vowed to double minority and female membership by 2020. Under the new rules, members who have not worked across a span of three decades will lose the right to vote unless they’ve been nominated for an Oscar themselves.

The media storm was prompted by Will Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith. The lack of Oscar color prompted Pinkett-Smith to float the idea of an Oscars Boycott (perhaps because her hubby, Will was passed over for his role in “Concussion”?) Note that the concerned Mrs. Smith didn’t suggest a boycott last year even though Oscar 2015 was ‘whitewashed’ as well. Spike Lee will not be attending the ceremony either. Lee, for his part, would like to see a requirement like the NFL’s Rooney Rule (which requires NFL teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior executive jobs). How would that work? Does Lee want to force casting directors to interview minority candidates? This newest instance of supposed racism has reared its ugly head again despite Hollywood already having a version of affirmative action. Nevertheless, it appears that some people want more and are going to get it.

Affirmative action Hollywood-style is already happening. When casting directors release a casting notice on Breakdown Services (the primary distributor of casting breakdowns, and is used by the majority of Casting Directors) it specifically states that the majority of roles are open to all ethnicities. Another example, to get an incentive for a film through the Screen Actors Guild SAG (actors union) you must have certain qualifiers of diversity. “A minimum of 50 percent of the total speaking roles and 50 percent of the total days of employment are cast with performers who are members of the following four (4) protected groups: People of color (Black/African American, Asian/Pacific Islander and South Asian, Latino/Hispanic, Arab/Middle Eastern and Native American), women, Senior performers (sixty (60) years or older), or Performers with disabilities. As well as a minimum of 20 percent of the total days of employment is cast with performers who are people of color.”  

Why should SAG incentivize 50 percent of speaking roles to Black or African Americans if by U.S. population they represent 14 .3 percent according to the Projections of the Size and Composition of the U.S. Population: 2014. Actor Will Smith (previously nominated twice for best actor, but lost both times to other black actors) said on Good Morning America, “This is so deeply not about me,” Smith continued, “This is about children that are going to sit down and watch this show and they’re not going to see themselves represented.” Moreover, the president of the Academy Cheryl Boone Isaacs is black, the producer is black, as well as the host, Chris Rock. Minorities already represent a larger percentage on film and television projects than the makeup of the country. Where my Hispanics (17 .4 percent) and Asians (6.3 percent) at?

The Director’s Guild of Americas diversity report uses shame and bully tactics to coerce TV shows into hiring more minorities with their DGA’s “Worst Of” list

If you are casting characters for a film you should be able to cast the vision of the writer, regardless of someone else’s social agenda. The majority of people going to the movies couldn’t care less about the race or ethnicity of characters and are not taking a census. Would moviegoers rather have corporate entities force studios, writers and directors into casting a quota of minorities? The cast should be chosen according to what is right for the project, and the consumer should decide what they want to watch. Societal shifts have been shying away from all white shows as we scour the globe looking for different stories to tell. The public should not tolerate quotas on TV shows and movies, especially because according to them, only certain minorities count!

The people calling for a boycott want diversity through affirmative action and MLK Jr. would be ashamed. Whenever MSNBC host Al Sharpton is calling for a boycott of anything you know it is all about race bating and division. An actor should be nominated based on the content of their performance, not the color of their skin. Coercive affirmative action creates a cloud of suspicion and doubt such that if a person of color gets nominated next year people could assume they didn’t deserve it and were simply nominated because of this boycott. That isn’t fair to an nominee of color or a white nominee that might lose a nomination.  

The vast majority of Hollywood is made up of liberals, they control the messages, but does the conservative minority boycott the Oscars? Life isn’t fair and neither is Hollywood or the Academy. Oscar nominated writer, director and producer Lionel Chetwynd, a rare Hollywood conservative, said, “I’m quite capable of judging and marveling at a performance without being conscious of the actor’s skin color. Chetwynd goes on to say that, “Sometimes it takes a long period of time for cultural changes to be reflected in the Academy … The people who built the Academy were largely white, which reflected the time, and they’re going to be replaced by a new generation of artists. But that doesn’t happen overnight. And it shouldn’t.”

Last week, “Full Metal Jacket” actor Adam Baldwin dropped the mic on Twitter in a battle with Academy award winning producer/actor Don Cheadle by giving a few past Oscar stats. “Black actors/actresses at the Oscars in the last 20 years: 10% of best supporting actors winners were black, 20% of best supporting actresses were black, 15% of best leading actors were black and 5% of best leading actresses were black. When you count an average percentage (10+20+15+5):4 you get 12.5%. So black people are almost perfectly represented in winners considering their share in the population is 12.8%! Congratulations Academy, you are damn near perfectly NOT RACIST.”  

This demographic breakdown occurs despite the fact that the makeup of the 6,000-plus Academy voters is an incredibly insular sect with 96 percent being white and 77 percent being men. In February the Academy president will nominate three candidates for the new governor seats to be filled by people of color and women. The board will then vote and in the spirit of diversity I’m sure they will choose three Republican women of color. The new rules appear to punish older white men who never had an issue voting for black actors before.

Writers do write for color — the studios won’t buy it. Writers also write for diversity but the studios won’t develop it. A successful writer/producer (who would like to remain nameless because the Hollywood blacklist is real) said, “I’ve never cast because I had to [based on color], but I have made choices of course based on value and “names.” That’s the industry way though. Always has been in some way or another.”

The only color Hollywood cares about is green, and there is a reason it is called show-biz. If minority actors made movies that made more money worldwide they would get more movies green lit, more roles, more distribution and their work could have a better chance of being recognized. Hollywood is all for diversity, but mainly when it comes to outsourcing American roles, jobs, and accents to British and Australian actors.

Similar to the fall of the Blackberry, affirmative action’s time has passed. I for one will have my annual Oscar party and gripe to my friends that “Straight Outta Compton was snubbed for best picture from the safety of my sofa soapbox. However, I will wear my Beats headphones, put extra ice cubes in my drink and pour a little out for Easy in silent protest and as a sign of solidarity.