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Why Has the Idea of Diversity in Hollywood Been Such a Challenging Notion to Execute?

Why Has the Idea of Diversity in Hollywood Been Such a Challenging Notion to Execute?

It’s a serious question, not a rhetorical one. 

Maybe I’m just naive, or too idealistic, but why is an idea that’s been given so much lip service and ink over many decades, taken so long to become a reality in this industry? Since “Birth of a Nation,” so much has been said on the subject by those in positions of power, as well as in the press, academic circles, and among fans of cinema, that, at this juncture, it really should no longer be a topic of conversation, should it? 

So what’s the problem?

There certainly hasn’t been a shortage of words thrown at the notion; Every angle/argument has been covered, including, most importantly, reasons why this thing called diversity (in the film & TV business specifically) is a good thing for us all. And, frankly, what we don’t need anymore of, are more words. Where’s the action to complement? What more can be said to convince those in positions to actually make immediate and significant impact, that there are many millions of people in this country who simply just don’t get to see themselves, and people who look like them, robustly represented on both the big and small screens, and would absolutely cherish the volume and, maybe even more importantly, the variety that white America has enjoyed for a century?

“WE ARE COMMITTED TO DIVERSITY…” they say, in all caps, and have said numerous times over the years, in more ways than there are types of depictions of black people in Hollywood studio movies; especially when challenged on the lack of diversity as evident in the product that they produce and distribute, as well as in the executive suites where ultimate decisions are made. So do something about it, please! Stop talking about your so-called commitment, and act on it! It’s rather simple, isn’t it?  

What don’t I understand? 

I woke up this morning thinking about the word “commitment.” Why? It just came to me. Maybe because I was woken by the disconcerting sounds of heavy rain landing on my roof (it’s my least favorite kind of weather), and I looked outside my bedroom window to see rooftops and streets covered in sheets of both snow and ice, after a winter storm hit New York City again overnight, although not as heavily as last week’s, that was supposed to be “historic,” but wasn’t – at least, not in my part of the country.

Great, I thought! Freezing rain on top of about half-a-foot of snow, and it’s obviously cold outside. I almost climbed back into bed. But I’m dog-sitting for the month, so my getting up just wasn’t entirely about me anymore – at least, not for the next 30 days. I had to, God forbid, consider the wants and needs of another creature, who, while I may not always readily admit it, enriches my own life with his own unabashed, unconditional day-to-day contributions to it. I have to be responsible. I made a commitment to this animal – a 5+ year-old Cockapoo (Cocker Spaniel/Poodle mix) named Brando, standing by my bed, big eyes fixed on mine, tail wagging rapidly, anxious for me to rise. I remember cursing at the weather gods, as I rose, defiantly, comically, with purpose, speaking words from Maya Angelou’s poem, “Still, I Rise.”

Ok, so, not exactly the right context; I appropriated the work, but you get the point.

But I was committed to an achievement, which is ultimately what I’m getting at – that being to simply get out of bed and start a new day, which began with walking Brando the cockapoo in all the unpleasant slush mother nature challenged us with this morning, doing my best to keep both of us as dry as possible during our shorter than usual trek, but failing. And throughout my day, despite how busy I get, Brando still demands my attention.

But I get the job done, sometimes gritting my teeth in the process; and I will continue to honor my commitment to the little fella, doing what any thinking, feeling, responsible human being should do, not just with words, but also action. 

No, I’m not a Hollywood studio executive, and Brando, the cockapoo, definitely isn’t a stand-in for diversity. Obviously, my intent here is to make a not-so clean connection to a lack of action, but plenty of talk of commitment by an industry that is enriched (both in a, we could say, “nutritive” sense, as well as financially) by the contributions a diverse body and overall inclusion, instead of exclusion, affords.

As the Nike slogan that many-a black athlete has helped popularize over the last 25 years, states, just do it! Or maybe I should say, just do the damn thing already. 

Instead of Amy Pascal having needless meetings with Al Sharpton, the next time she or her underlings is packaging a movie, they should consider a black director, or a black writer, a black actor/actress in the lead role (I should note that diversity isn’t just black & white; but, given this blog’s interest, that’s my focus). If necessary, and if it’s a matter of being reminded to do so, she could simply set a calendar alert for a weekly reminder, in which she challenges herself, asking, “what have I done to diversify my industry this week?” It could start with something as ridiculously simple as that, as ridiculous as that might sound.

And I’m singling out Pascal here, if only thanks to recent events that placed her on the receiving end of much public criticism. But this is an industry-wide matter. Not just a Sony problem. All it takes is just a thought; a consideration. All it takes is a moment, a single decision, and so much change can happen quite rapidly.

If their so-called commitment is indeed genuine, then, after over a century of cries for change, change should’ve come a long time ago, right? 

No more discussions about commitments to diversity. I’m sick of that conversation. Enough meetings with so-called black leaders. Enough lip service. Act on it! Yes, I’m fully aware that, in the end, this is a business, and these are all publicly-traded companies, whose loyalties lie with their shareholders. But I’d argue that every decision made within studio executive suites isn’t entirely profit-motivated, despite long-standing claims by some that it comes down to the almighty green. Risks are often taken, just rarely, if ever, when it comes to projects involving characters or creators of color.

What am I not understanding here? Ultimately, my point is, just do it! If something is important enough to any of us, we find a way to get it done, no matter what! Even if it means we have to give something up; compromise; even sacrifice something in return. So maybe it’s a question of just how important this is to those who continue to claim that it is important to them, but who haven’t really demonstrated that it is indeed of significance, suggesting then that it’s really not.

Props to all those indie filmmakers of color, by the way, surviving and thriving, outside the mainstream, by any means necessary! You are the folks who give us something to cheer for!

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