However you felt about the Oscars, it was a clear sign of progress that the month-long controversy over the Academy’s lack of diversity was front and center during the telecast–not just begrudgingly alluded to as has happened with other controversies in the past. Whether by design or by luck, the fact that Chris Rock was the host and Cheryl Boone Isaacs is the Academy’s president ensured that the issue was not swept under the rug.
That being said, the ceremony itself belied Isaacs’ words that “our audiences are global and rich in diversity and every facet of our industry should be as well.” Just a handful of Latinos and Asian Americans were presenters and there was no mention of the role of these communities within the diversity issue. Viewers not closely following the controversy were likely left with the impression that this is a simply Black-White issue. When the numbers both on screen and behind the camera for Asian Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans are as woeful as they are, this was an egregious and unforgivable oversight on the part of the Academy and the show’s producers.
This isn’t about competing for who has it the worst in Hollywood, but a plea to make sure that this long-overdue discussion is as inclusive and comprehensive as it needs to be. This leads me to a second observation–there is another missing voice in this discussion and it’s that of Whites. Why were only actors of color asked about this issue on the red carpet? We’ve seen the amazing New York Times coverage of the controversy, such as a recent piece on what it’s like for women and people of color in Hollywood, but why didn’t they also ask the gatekeepers of the industry what their take is on being at the helm of an industry that lacks the diversity we see in America?
The reality is that if the only discomfort the so-called gatekeepers feel is sitting through Chris Rock’s razor-sharp monologue, we will be having this discussion again in 2017. That is because the gatekeepers have depended on the fact that once the spotlight goes away and no one takes responsibility or is held accountable, they can wait the advocates out and go on with business as usual. NCLR and our fellow advocates will use this moment to hold their feet to the fire, as should the media and everyone else who has been part of this discussion.
And ultimately, accountability is what it’s all about. Corporate America and other sectors that have also dealt with the need to diversify–long before 2016, I might add–did not start to really diversify until executives had assessments of diversity become part of their evaluation and compensation discussions. We know that Hollywood is not corporate America and we respect the creative process and the need for flexibility. But we also know that the process has been used as an excuse that has ended up serving as a barrier to inclusion. It is time to be proactive and intentional about diversity and inclusion. It is time for the studios, the companies, and all other decision-makers to ask themselves, “What specifically are we doing to diversify and how are we incentivizing people to do better?” It’s about keeping it 100: green has always been the most important color in Hollywood, so nothing in Hollywood will change until it costs someone their money or their job.
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