Magazine article Variety

Failure of Inclusion Plagues the Industry

Magazine article Variety

Failure of Inclusion Plagues the Industry

Article excerpt

In 2015, America's age-old struggle over civil rights centered on police violence. Gunshots too often killed unarmed black citizens - and the African-American population exploded with indignation, no longer willing to abide the status quo.

This year, the nation's battle over identity and inclusion has found a new focus: Hollywood. The tipping point arrived with the Jan. 14 unveiling of Oscar nominees, a list as white as the Social Register, circa 1950. The announcement by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences - revealing that every one of the 20 acting nominees was white, incredibly, for the second consecutive year - has filled the Twitterverse and cable talk shows with outrage, plunging the Academy into crisis. The lack of diversity has dominated the conversation, from the executive suites at Disney to the hallways of CAA.

The 89-year-old motion picture academy is absorbing the brunt of the public disdain. But the fault lies not just in the star-making Oscars, many agreed, but in ourselves. The Hollywood studio hierarchy remains an exclusive club chaired by white men and one white woman. The big talent agencies have almost no minority partners. And the media that cover it all - Variety included - employ only a few people of color.

The Academy Board of Governors met in an emergency session on Jan. 21 to tamp down the uproar before Oscar's big night on Feb. 28. The group's president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, unveiled immediate reforms designed to double the number of women and non-whites in the organization by 2020. Boone Isaacs also announced the Academy would cull from its membership those who have not worked in 10 years, and promised to diversify the overwhelmingly white Board of Governors. Of 51 governors, only Boone Isaacs, an African American, and one other are members of racial minority groups.

"The Academy is going to lead," Boone Isaacs assured, "and not wait for the industry to catch up."

But many inside Hollywood concurred that, for the latest furor to provoke real change, more than a rewriting of Academy bylaws would be required.

"Diversity does not just happen," said L.A. Film Festival chief Stephanie Allain, a producer of movies such as "Hustle & Flow," and a former high-level executive at Columbia Pictures. "You have to have the intention to make it happen. You have to talk about it. And then you have to walk the walk."

Allain, who is African-American, has instructed her festival staff to find not only great films, but ones made by women and minority directors. The result? Thirty-five percent of the movies at last year's L.A. fest were helmed by people of color, and 40% by women.

"Why don't we do a trial of five years throughout the industry, of hiring those (minority) writers, developing those artists, hiring those executives and see what happens?" said Allain, who along with "Selma" director Ava DuVernay and costume designer Ruth E. Carter, both African American, lost bids to white incumbents last year to become Academy governors. "People want to see themselves up on that screen," Allain said. "If you believe in it and understand it, you know diversity can mean bigger results at the box office, too."

So, what are the heads of Hollywood's six major studios saying about the lack of diversity in their executive ranks and in the content they produce? Three of the six - five of whom are white and all but one of whom are male - agreed to a request by Variety to speak on the record about the industry's diversity problem.

"There's no question that this is an important issue and deserves respect, attention and response," said Alan Horn, Walt Disney Studios chairman. "We must continue working with filmmakers and créatives who understand we need to tell inclusive stories that are reflective of the audiences coming to our movies." Horn, who joined Disney after heading Warner Bros, for 12 years, added, "We need to have a diverse workforce, reflecting the diversity in society, and we're working toward that. …

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