This is cross-posted from my horrible Angry Zen Master blog.
There are moments of self delusion when I think that minorities have made significant progress in Hollywood, that there are non-token roles in films in which minorities play against stereotype, that American films are starting to portray the rich diversity of this country. And then I watch the Academy Awards and the homogeneous reality of Hollywood comes crashing in.
No One Looks Like Me
There were four Black presenters at last night’s Academy Awards, Morgan Freeman (who didn’t actually present anything), Jennifer Hudson, Oprah Winfrey, and Halle Berry. There was one Asian winner last night, Shaun Tan, who won for best animated short. And that’s all you get.
There was a decided lack of diversity in this year’s Oscar nominations. And thinking back over the 2010 movie season, the big films that everyone was talking about were pretty homogeneous in terms of casting. Just the same, there were plenty of diverse films released in 2010 that featured very colorful casts. So what’s the deal, Oscar?
Something’s wrong with the major studios. I’m sick of people telling me that things aren’t that bad or that minorities just aren’t trying hard enough or just aren’t good enough to carry a major motion picture. Bull. Fucking. Shit. 83 Academy Awards and I can count the number of minority winners on both hands? Fuck that. The big studios are either ignoring minority actors or think that general audiences don’t want minority actors. Cause lord knows there are a shit ton of minority actors looking for work.
Fear, Not Racism
I will not accuse the studios of being racist because that’s unfair. The situation is more nuanced that just mere ethnocentricity. But what baffles me is that while television programming is making decent headway on minority representation, major studio films are lagging behind.
I think it really comes down to fear.
Ticket sales are down and were sliding even before the economic fuck you. Studios blame the loss of revenue on downloads or streaming or whatever else they can think of while ignoring the quality of their product. With less money coming in, they’re becoming increasingly wary of new stories. This is reflected in the sheer number of sequels, remakes, re-imaginings, comic book movies, old tv show movies, and other remixed content that continues to fill up the studio slates. And as much as we complain about sequels and the like, the sad truth is that they get asses in to seats which makes them sure fire wins for the studios.
The studios have a winning formula which almost guarantees them money. It doesn’t advance the art of film, but it keeps them afloat. A major part of that formula is the cast make up. And here’s where I think the fear of change comes in. Since the original films these sequels and remakes are base upon feature homogenous casts that lack diversity, the studios think that the new versions must reflect those old casting choices. Never mind the fact that minorities communities continue to grow as the years roll on. Never mind that the more people see actors who look like them the more likely they’ll go to see these films. If the original cast lacked diversity, so too will this new cast.
Can We Change It?
The longer the studios cannibalize their old ideas, the more ticket sales will slip. It’s going to take a major slap in the face of movies for them to take notice. Everyone jumped on the 3D bandwagon when Avatar destroyed every single box office record. Will it take an Avatar sized hit for the studios to realize that audiences are ready for diverse, non-stereotypical casts?
I certainly think a message was sent when Airbender fared so horribly at the box office and was humiliated at the Razzies. But it’s going to take more than just a statement of what we don’t want. There’s got to be a big ass movie that everyone can get behind, minorities and non-minorities alike, that will prove to the studios that minorities can carry big budget films. Slum Dog Millionaire won a bajillion Oscars and should have been that, but it didn’t really impact the next year’s offerings.
I don’t know what kind of movie it will be that will finally break this barrier down. Maybe it won’t be a single film but a number of smaller films that will add up to a major movement. Maybe it will be a giant, blockbuster that comes out of no where. But whatever it is, I feel like it’s close. It’s gotta be. Maybe we won’t even recognize it when it happens, but when Oscar looks less homogeneous, we’ll know we’ve made it.