There has been no meaningful change in the film industry for years now, contrary to popular belief, since Hollywood’s desire for diversity is simply a trend. This truly diverse representation is hard to find on-screen, throughout production teams, and within award ceremonies.
The battle for diversity in front of the camera and behind it is still a steep uphill battle. A study analysing 1,100 films between 2007 and 2017 found that overall white performers account for 70.7% of the speaking characters on-screen. Within that sample, there were numerous films that did not feature BAME characters, LGBT characters, or characters with disabilities. It is nice to think that Hollywood has experienced some form of meaningful change over the decade but it has not. The same can be said for the work behind the screens. An overwhelming majority of the films in the sample were directed by men, of which, 5.2% were black and 3.1% were Asian or Asian-American. We still need more female directors behind the screen of mainstream and commercially successful films.
Black Panther had its moment. Crazy Rich Asians had its moment. These moments of diversity are widely applauded but are still isolated. The industry has created its own cinematic experience of how diversity is changing and that is not the reality of the situation. It is time to stop following the narrative that the industry perpetuates. We are still not at a point where diversity is making substantial progress towards equality in film. #OscarsSoWhite in 2015 found the Academy giving Get Out nods of recognition but few major wins. Moonlight won Best Picture, but I expected La La Land to win, on the basis of commercial interest not on the basis of merit. Of course, I do not expect any meaningful change to take place overnight, but after a couple of decades, it is getting ridiculous. That trajectory continued with Green Book, If Beale Street Could Talk, and BlackKklansman.
Are these nods some form of progress? No. They are poorly disguised efforts to appease audiences and consumers with scripted wokeness. Perhaps we should not expect more from an industry that specialises in creating a narrative that is not necessarily reflective of the reality. If you compare the BAFTAs to the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards, fewer people of colour were nominated, showing the meaning of diversity in this industry. In this industry, diversity is another market to cash in on when it is convenient for studios, or when they are commenting on the increasing extremities of right-wing politics. Hollywood is capricious and they are ready to discard attempts at promoting diversity. BAFTA only introduced diversity requirements to enable people from all backgrounds to be represented off-screen and on-screen at the awards last year. It was not effective since they hardly acknowledged diversity.
Hollywood seemed to be preened for major changes in recent years, which makes the lack of substantial diversity even more baffling and showcases how it is just a fad. In Frances McDormand’s speech after her win for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri last year, she uttered two words, “inclusion rider”. She was highlighting how actors can ask for certain stipulations to be inserted in their contracts, which would require a certain amount of diversity among the film’s crew and cast. People were pledging to use follow suit, but then again, nothing really happened. It is not really obvious how many actors are incorporating these stipulations into their contracts. Are these actors even being supported by the studios who produce their movies? This industry can benefit so much from diversity in films. The work is cut out for them, yet they are stuck in their ways, refusing to become a genuinely inclusive space. Things will stay the same because they can only accept diversity in the way they are willing to narrate how it should be.
There is fault at all levels. The marketing teams have also failed the more diverse films. This industry kind of expects diverse audiences to find diverse films for themselves. It is quite archaic logic as they do not see the point in convincing other audiences to watch those films. These ideas sound familiar because they are. The cinema and its audiences are still segregated and they ignore the mainstream and critical successes of more prominent diverse films. Moonlight, Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians, and more have illustrated that films with a diverse cast can be enjoyed by every single type of audience.
You can ask me why I still care about race. You can ask me why I still care about gender. You can even ask me why I still care about religion, sexual orientation and physical abilities. Look, I agree that awards should be based on merit, not race, but the awards season is a reminder of the fact that it is always based on race. It is always based on gender. It is always based on something else because these accolades recognise commercial success rather than draw attention to its own subconscious racial bias. If these awards were really based on merit then the nominations would not repeatedly look the way they do.