To Address Issues of Inclusion, Hollywood Needs to Do More Than Change the Oscar Ballot

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The controversy surrounding the second straight year where no actors of color are nominated for an Academy Award has essentially left Oscars host Chris Rock no choice but to address the elephant in the room—race and ethnicity in Hollywood. And putting an unapologetically honest comedian like Rock front and center on national television to skewer industry decision-makers may be exactly what Hollywood needs to finally understand that #OscarsSoWhite is no laughing matter.

To their credit, the Academy has acknowledged the problem they have with inclusion and have pledged to recruit new members who better reflect diversity of race, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. While this step is welcomed, it does not get to the root of the problem with Hollywood as a whole. Nominating more Black, Latino, and Asian American actors for Oscars will not change the fact that roles for those actors come few and far between. It will not convince head movie executives to bankroll films that tell the unique stories of minorities outside the lens of White filmmakers and executives.

A recent study by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism found that of the more than 400 films and TV series examined, fewer than one-third of the characters were minorities, with Latinos accounting for just about 6 percent. Latinas in particular were underrepresented and frequently featured in highly sexualized roles.

The industry needs to change from the top down. In a piece on the stunning lack of diversity throughout Hollywood, the Washington Post ran the numbers on what the make-up of the top tier of decision-makers in the industry looks like. Unsurprisingly, it is very old, it is very White, and it is very male.

In the Post article, Academy member and director Jennifer Warren explains: “The academy is a microcosm of the industry, and it (shows) benign neglect more than outright prejudice. It’s not that the industry is prejudiced. It’s that they’re disinterested in anything but themselves.”

The problem is also not limited to those at the top. As many directors and actors have said when asked about the Oscars controversy, there needs to be more representation and inclusion of minorities in every aspect of the industry in order to truly change the culture. That includes everybody from entry-level writers to the agents who represent talent. In a New York Times piece, America Ferrara details exactly how often stereotypes of race and ethnicity are heard:

“I had just won [a top award at Sundance], and [my manager] wanted me to audition for the Latina chubby girl in a pilot. She wasn’t even the lead; she was just the sidekick, with the same joke in every scene. I said, “I’m not going in for that.” When I ultimately left him, he [told] another of my reps, “Somebody should tell that girl that she has an unrealistic idea of what she can accomplish in this industry.”

Hollywood can do better. Unless we have more diverse writers, producers, and executives, we will continue to be portrayed as the chubby sidekick or the oversexualized temptress or the drug kingpin. But the Hispanic American story, the Black American story, the Asian American story, the Native American story, and the LGBT American story is so much more than these one-dimensional stereotypes. These are the stories of modern-day America and it is past time Hollywood acknowledges and celebrates them.

#OscarsSoWhite #AGAIN

By Joseph Rendeiro, Senior Media Relations Specialist, NCLR

“The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.” –Viola Davis, 2015 Emmy Awards

Viola Davis’s acceptance speech as she celebrated her historic win at last year’s Emmy Awards was one of the most memorable moments of the night, resonating not just with her fellow Black actresses, but with all people of color who have historically been underrepresented on television. Directly calling out Hollywood, Davis noted that it is impossible to earn recognition like an Emmy Award if meaty, lead-acting roles are unavailable to actors of color.

Thankfully, television networks have grown to embrace diversity in their line-ups. Breakout stars like Gina Rodriguez, Priyanka Chopra, and Taraji P. Henson are captivating audiences with their portrayals of layered lead characters, proving to network executives that actors of color are just as capable of anchoring primetime as their peers. While there is certainly still a long way to go, television has made important strides moving actors of color out of supporting roles. In fact, on the television side, this year’s Golden Globes honored one of the most diverse groups of actors in history—a night that was marked by big wins for Latinos when both Oscar Isaac and Gael Garcia Bernal took home acting awards.

Every Time Latinos Owned The Golden Globes

There were some major wins for Latinos in Hollywood at the Golden Globes!

Posted by PopSugar Celebrity on Monday, January 11, 2016

But while actors of color are finally sharing the spotlight on the small screen, on the silver screen, lead roles for Blacks, Latinos, Asians and all other minorities in movies that are considered Oscar-worthy are few and far between. Today, the Academy rolled out its list of nominees and, for the second year in a row, not one actor of color is nominated for an award.

To be clear, the disappointment that many feel over the lack diversity among the nominees is not directed at the nominees themselves. They have put on terrific performances that are certainly Oscar-worthy. The disappointment stems from what Davis spoke about in her Emmy’s speech: opportunity. Actors of color cannot win awards for roles that are not there. The stunning lack of diversity among the nominees reflects a larger problem within Hollywood: movie industry executives do not believe stories led by people of color are worthy of being told. People of color are missing out on the opportunity to share their culture, to create compelling narratives through the lenses of their own community members, and to see their faces reflected in roles that are nuanced and thought-provoking.

Many will argue that the decisions were based on quality, that these movies and the actors in them were simply better than performances lead by actors of color. But was Idris Elba’s performance in Beasts of No Nation any less deserving than those nominated? Did Ava DuVernay deserve to be overlooked last year in the Best Director category for her work in Selma? The Oscar nominations tell us less about the actual quality of movies and more about what the Hollywood industry believes is quality. And unfortunately, the stories of minorities continue to be undervalued.

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Photo: Davidlohr Bueso

To many, an Oscar may seem like just a statue. But being nominated for one of those statues is what took an actress by the name of Jennifer Lawrence from a virtual unknown in Winter’s Bone to one of the biggest stars in the industry. Now movie executives are willing to rely on her to bring audiences to theaters. Now she has the opportunity to hone her craft and leave a cinematic legacy. There are many actors, writers, producers, and directors of color who are just as good as their White counterparts, but who are waiting to have that breakthrough moment. They will not be able to show the world their talents if movie executive refuse to back movies lead by Black, Latino, Asian, or Native American characters.

The entertainment industry is changing for the better. Today, young men and women of color can see their faces reflected in popular primetime television shows and in roles that are aspirational, intelligent, and interesting. They are no longer relegated to token sidekicks who are on the show only to deliver one-liners. And audiences have embraced these shows, these characters, and these actors. The proof that stories about people of color are compelling and captivating enough to interest the masses is plain to see. It’s time that movie industry executives open their eyes.

The Real Problem with Sean Penn’s Green Card Joke at the Oscars

By Janet Murguía, President and CEO, NCLR

As I was watching the final moments of a very long Oscars telecast, all but certain that Birdman was about to be announced Best Picture, I was not offended so much as baffled when Sean Penn joked about Mexican director Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s green card since Penn, while a talented actor, is not known for being a bigot or, for that matter, funny.

I realize that both Penn and Iñárritu later said that this was some good-natured ribbing between friends, an inside joke. But I also understand—and they should, too—why so many people in the Latino community took offense. Even on the most triumphant Oscar night ever for someone of Hispanic heritage, Penn’s joke reinforced what Latinos have long suspected: our perception—borne out of history and experience—that Hollywood believes our community does not belong at the Academy Awards. Not only were there no Hispanic acting nominees, but a Latino has not been nominated for Best Actor since 2011, or a Latina for Best Actress since 2006. If you are a U.S.-born Hispanic, the landscape is even grimmer: no Best Actor nomination since 1988 and no Best Actress nomination since… ever. That’s right: no U.S.-born Latina has ever been nominated for Best Actress. In nearly a century of Oscars, you can count the number of total acting awards won by Latinos on one hand… plus an extra finger.

Our virtual invisibility at all Hollywood award shows—not just the Oscars—is why NCLR created the NCLR ALMA Awards® 20 years ago. We realized that if the many contributions of Latino talent both on-screen and behind the camera were going to be recognized and honored, we would have to do it ourselves. Unfortunately, two decades later, that still seems to be the case. After 15 ALMA shows honoring hundreds of Latinos and Latinas in Hollywood, the Oscars still managed to only showcase a couple of us—Jennifer Lopez and Zoe Saldana—as presenters on Sunday night’s show.

But we also do ourselves a disservice by dwelling on Penn’s dopey, spur-of-the-moment quip because it overshadows the best moment for Latinos on television in a long time: Iñárritu’s Best Picture acceptance remarks. It is a tribute to Iñárritu that in the greatest moment of his career thus far, he chose to focus on the plight of those who are too often invisible. He said, “I just pray [Mexicans here in the United States] can be treated with the same dignity and respect of the ones that came before and built this incredible immigrant nation.”

In just one sentence, Iñárritu captured the hopes and dreams of the nation’s 55 million Latinos. And he did so in front of the estimated billion people around the world watching the event, giving voice to something never before heard on such a large scale. The best way to make sure that people forget Penn’s crassness is for us to make sure that people do not forget these timeless and eloquent words.