A version of this post first appeared in Brandtalk on March 1, 2016.
This year, and last, at the Oscars, every single major acting nomination went to white people. Seems suspicious, to say the least. I live in Los Angeles but don’t really have anything to do with the Hollywood machine. So, to me, the issue of diversity at the Oscars seemed like a localized, industry squabble. Being neither black nor an Oscar member nor even in the biz, I felt that this was someone else’s war to fight. It was an example of a brand struggling with an internal values issue. But, after watching last Sunday’s celebration, I feel that an average white movie goer like me really does have a stake in making Oscar more diverse. Why? Because Hollywood is a brand.
In the sense that Hollywood represents the product of the big, American film studios, it is, indeed, a brand. Every brand is a covenant between an organization and its market and we average white movie goers are a big part of that market. As such we need to be a voice in the conversation. In fact, we have a responsibility to speak up, because Hollywood is not living up to its end of the covenant.
If we truly want a richer movie-going experience we ought to insist that Hollywood provide us access to films that come from a wider variety of sources. We need to hear from writers, actors and directors who have a different history and world view than our own. We ought to be making these demands the same way consumer groups petition Coca-Cola to bring back its original recipe or Nike to forswear employing child labor. We should be doing this for two reasons.
First, because it’s just the right thing to do. Hollywood is better than it was in the past but the studios are still far from shining examples of diversity. We don’t want to support an industry that systematically excludes talented people – either by design or as a byproduct of its culture – because of skin color or any other form of bigotry.
And, second, because we’ll get better movies! Fresh talent means fresh stories, different approaches and unexpected combinations. All these lead to a product of higher quality. I saw, and thoroughly enjoyed, both The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road and I’m happy for the success they’ve achieved. But let’s face it. Basically, they’re both B movies with A-movie budgets. We’ve seen them before: the revenge flick and the car chase flick. I appreciate movies like 12 Years a Slave and Straight Outta Compton because they tell stories that surprise and astonish me.
Most of us have bought into Hollywood as a brand. The Oscars telecast is a shared celebration of that brand. It is a communal, cultural phenomenon, like the Super Bowl. Millions tune in every year. If we don’t see all of America authentically represented there, we know something is wrong. And, along with everyone else, we average white movie goers should care about that.
UPDATE: Since this was written, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has made ongoing efforts to further diversify their membership. Only last week, they invited over 800 new actors, directors and others to join, many of them people of color.
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