On Tuesday, a number of highly influential figures spoke out about the lack of diversity in Hollywood, while one not-very-influential Fox News contributor blamed marginalized groups for their own mistreatment.
Variety’s latest issue is dedicated to addressing income inequality in Hollywood, and features stories on various professionals who have come up against the industry’s biases (though it’s cover of choice is not impressing all readers). Women and people of color get a fraction of the roles and pay of their white male counterparts—so how can we fix it?
In an interview in the magazine, Empire executive producer Ilene Chaiken said one of the show’s top priorities was casting primarily black, female directors:
“First it starts with the premise and the will to do it, because it’s not a given. When you start with the premise that 30 percent is the leftovers — the leftover [diversity] slots — that’s not a good place to start. I start in the other place. And “Empire” is unique. [The director roster began from] my worldview and my approach to staffing anything that I’ve done, but also [co-creator] Lee Daniels made it very clear how important it was for him that most of the episodic directors on “Empire” are African-American. So that was our starting premise. “We need to find the best black directors who do episodic television and staff this show primarily with those directors.”
As we were mounting the show in the first season, [co-creator] Danny Strong said to me, it’s really, really important to him that we staff as many women directors as we can. It’s also really important to me. So clearly there are fewer black directors and fewer women directors than there are white guys, but they certainly are out there. It’s always the case that the really good directors that we want for our shows are very busy, and certainly since there are fewer black directors and fewer women directors [since many shows] have a wish to diversify, those directors do get booked very, very quickly. But we just made sure to get out there and find the best directors that were right for the show and book them. “
The issue also featured an interview with Melissa Goodman, the director of the LGBTQ, Gender & Reproductive Justice Project at the ACLU of Southern California. Her organization believed hiring discrimination against female TV directors was so egregious that it merited sending a letter to two government agencies demanding an investigation.
“It’s not actually hard to hire women directors. It’s not actually hard to find women directors who are talented and qualified and able and willing to work. There’s this perception that it’s harder but it’s my understanding, as an outsider having talked to a lot of people now – it isn’t hard,” Goodman said. “If people made it a priority and made it important and made it something that was a part of what was required of their shows, there would be a perceptible move in the numbers.”
And in an article in the New York Times, comedian Aziz Ansari wrote about his first experience seeing an Indian actor in a leading role. The movie was Short Circuit 2 (1988), the main character of which was scientist Benjamin Jarvhi. Ansari would come to learn that Jarvhi was actually played by white actor in brown face Fisher Stevens, a plot line that comes up in his new Netflix series, Master of None. He then recounted how difficult it was to find an Asian actor for that show.
The only solution, he argued, is for people in power in the film and television to double down on casting people of color for leading roles.
“Even at a time when minorities account for almost 40 percent of the American population, when Hollywood wants an ‘everyman,’ what it really wants is a straight white guy. But a straight white guy is not every man,” he wrote. “The ‘everyman’ is everybody.”
All three pieces highlight very depressing statistics, and put the onus on the people doing the hiring to make changes. Failed actor Stacey Dash, on the other hand, puts the onus on the women themselves.
“There needs to be a demand for more aspirational leading female roles,” she said on Fox News on Tuesday. “This being said, there also needs to be an understanding of the difference between worth and valuable. You know, if you become valuable, if you know what your value is, then you’re worth more. So that’s what you have to figure out... Be a better negotiator.”
Variety’s cover story quotes actor Toni Collette speaking about the pay gap somewhat more compellingly: “It’s a fucking sexist industry... I don’t understand why genitalia makes a difference. Creativity is creativity.”
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