Sunday, February 28, 2016

Hollywood’s Continued Diversity Problem

With the Academy Awards tonight, there will be much talk of Hollywood's diversity problem, with much focus on the lack of black actors among the nominees.  But in addition to the Academy's suggested racism is Hollywood's continued homophobia.  Both the Advocate and Towleroad look at the continued problem and point fingers at the system itself.  First, excerpts from The Advocate:

After the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released the nominees for its 2016 Academy Awards, outrage followed. For the second year in a row, nominees in the four top acting categories (for best actor, actress, supporting actor, and supporting actress) are all white.
Charges of persistent racism spread like wildfire on social media in the #OscarsSoWhitecampaign. Jada Pinkett Smith, Spike Lee, and several other prominent people of color in the film and television industry vowed to boycott Sunday's Oscars ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.
“These are all legitimate complaints,” says the Oscar-nominated actor Ian McKellen of the accusations of bigotry in Hollywood. McKellen suggests that actors of color aren't the only ones shut out of top honors. No openly gay man — including McKellen himself, twice nominated for an Academy Award, and one of our generation’s most impressive openly gay actors — has ever won an Oscar in the acting categories either. 
Commentators have taken Eddie Redmayne to task for playing a transgender woman in The Danish Girl. Redmayne, the film’s star, is a cisgender (nontrans), straight, white, British, Eton-educated actor who last year won a Best Actor Oscar for The Theory of Everything. For me, attacks against Redmayne seem similar to criticism of the Emmy-nominated transgender actress and advocate Laverne Cox for accepting the role of Dr. Frank-N-Furter in the upcoming television restaging of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Advocacy and education can change the hearts and minds of liberals and conservatives alike. But, some will still hate certain kinds of marginalized people no matter what we say or do. That's why we need legal protections for all of us, even those that appear (often mistakenly) to lack the respectablity of the "model minorities." Moreover, all gender-variant people deserve protections, regardless of our identity and our expression — whether we're medically transitioning or cross-dressing. 
But, the attention paid to individual performers obscures the root of the issue. Just as I said in 1993, it's the system that's the real problem. The New York Times recently unpacked the considerable impediments to changing the Academy's system of voting and membership. Despite the influence of its (relatively new) black female president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, and the advocacy of Phil Alden Robinson, a progressive white director who serves as the Academy’s secretary, the organization’s bylaws pointedly prevent changes to many of its voting procedures and membership rules. 
A new report from the Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism found that the film and television industry is mired in an out-of-control “inclusion crisis.” The structure of the Academy epitomizes this crisis. Its voting members are 94 percent white, 76 percent male, and, on average, above the age of 63. And the bylaws of the organization appear designed to keep it that way.
Fundamentally, changing the composition of those in power is threatening to the powerful because it means that eventually they must share power with the very same people that they systematically ignored, excluded, or promoted only as tokens.
  Towleroad looks at the homophobia issue in particular:
What started as a reaction to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ failure to nominate any actors of color for the second year in a row has expanded into a broader conversation about minority representation in Hollywood.
As more voices have emerged in that conversation, additional attention has been paid to the inequity which the LGBT community faces in the industry. While the Academy failed to nominate any person of color this year for an acting Oscar, it also failed to nominate any openly LGBT actors. . . . Yet, three were nominated for playing LGBTQ characters: Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as lovers in Carol and Eddie Redmayne for playing a trans woman in The Danish Girl.”
And this year is not an isolated year of exclusion for LGBT actors, as O’Keeffe notes
In the 10 years since Crash beat Brokeback Mountain for the best picture Oscar, things have improved little for movies about trans or queer characters. Only four movies about LGBTQ protagonists have been nominated for best picture: Milk, The Kids Are All Right, The Imitation Game and Black Swan. (Dallas Buyers Club‘s protagonist, played by Matthew McConaughey, is straight.) That number looks all the lower in context.
Hollywood, it seems, has a big problem with the LGBT community; one of representation and inclusion. And some of Hollywood’s top talent agrees.
Academy Award-nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor recently commented that he thought it was “harder to be gay” than to be black in Hollywood. He told The Times, “Sexuality is still marginalized in a way that is pretty open. I think it’s tough.”
Ian McKellen went on record saying that the frustration felt by black actors in Hollywood is not so dissimilar from that felt by gay actors.
To rub salt in that already festering wound is another reality LGBT actors experience in Hollywood: when straight actors get cast to play gay characters, they’re called brave; when gay actors get cast to play straight characters, they’re called lucky.
On a personal note, I would like to add that much of what the statistics and stories shared by LGBT people in entertainment about Hollywood’s LGBT inclusivity problem rings true for me as someone who has worked in various roles in “the industry.” While there are voices of support in many corners—individuals who champion LGBT actors, business professionals and stories— the overarching hegemony is one which does not value actors coming out as L, G, B or T, marginalizes and pigeonholes actors who are out, and ghettoizes LGBT stories, treating them as universally “edgy”, “controversial”, “risky” and “dangerous.”

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