Oprah Explains Why She's Not Calling for Media 'Diversity' Anymore

August 17th 2016

Lucy Tiven

In a joint interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Oprah Winfrey and director Ava DuVernay opened up about representation in Hollywood, Black Lives Matter, and advocating for systemic change in the industry.

They also discussed the terms some have used to describe the strides minorities have made on TV and in film: DuVernay's chooses to use the word "inclusion" rather than "diversity," which Winfrey has used in the past.

From THR:

"DUVERNAY: We aren't sitting around talking about diversity, just like we aren't sitting around talking about being black or being women. We're just being that.

"WINFREY: I will say that I stand corrected. I used to use the word 'diversity' all the time. 'We want more diverse stories, more diverse characters …' Now I really eliminated it from my vocabulary because I've learned from her that the word that most articulates what we're looking for is what we want to be: included. It's to have a seat at the table where the decisions are being made."

Celebrating individual actors, directors, and writers efforts as landmarks for diversity in Hollywood can be a way of ignoring the deep, systemic changes that need to be made in Hollywood. DuVernay explained.

"Forward-thinking people and allies of this cause within the industry have the common sense to know that this is systemic," the "Selma" director said. "There needs to be more done than applauding one or two people who make it through your door."

DuVernay has explained why she objects to the word "diversity" in the past.

“We’re hearing a lot about diversity,” she told the New York Times in a January interview. “I hate that word so, so much.”

“I feel it’s a medicinal word that has no emotional resonance, and this is a really emotional issue,” she added. “It’s emotional for artists who are women and people of color to have less value placed on our worldview.”

She asserted that she prefered the words "inclusion'" and "belonging."

“There’s a belonging problem in Hollywood," DuVernay told the Times. “Who dictates who belongs? The very body who dictates that looks all one way.”

Matt Damon ignited a Twitter controversy over his comments on "diversity" in media in late 2015.

“When we’re talking about diversity, you do it in the casting of the film, not in the casting of the show,” Damon said, explaining that he believed it was more important to cast actors of color than feature them behind the scenes as staff members of TV shows.

Damon's remark was in response to a comment from “Dear White People” producer Effie Brown, who was troubled that the only Black character in a film featured in Damon's show "Project Greenlight" was "a prostitute who is slapped by her white pimp," Jezebel reports.

Brown was shocked by Damon's reply, which subsequently ignited quite a bit of outrage on social media where Twitter users coined the hashtag #damonsplaining.

Damon responded to the criticism in a statement to The Wrap.

“My comments were part of a much broader conversation about diversity in Hollywood and the fundamental nature of ‘Project Greenlight’ which did not make the show,” he said. “I am sorry that they offended some people, but, at the very least, I am happy that they started a conversation about diversity in Hollywood.”

As DuVernay and Winfrey point out, it's not enough to start conversations if the conversations end with "visibility" on screen.

In THR interview, DuVernay stressed the importance of Black artists telling their own stories.

"Historically, black artists have not been able to interpret black life as robustly as we should, in terms of having it distributed, financed and shared," she pointed out. "That's why it's a beautiful moment when you have black artists who are able to articulate and express their reflection as opposed to black folk only being able to watch an interpretation of our life."

DuVernay and Winfrey are collaborating on the television series "Queen Sugar" which features a large Black cast as well as a "small army of TV newcomers, all of them female, behind the camera," THR explained.

They also opened up about how the show was influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement.

"You see integration of Black Lives Matter from the beginning of [Queen Sugar] because it is literally black lives having meaning and mattering in the everyday," DuVernay told THR. "With the Black Lives Matter movement, a lot of the focus is on the protest and dissent. I'm hoping to dismantle the public notion — for folks outside of the community — of what Black Lives Matter means. It's really about saying that black lives matter, that humanity is the same when you go inside people's homes."

"Everybody gets caught up in the slogan and the hashtag and the protest," Winfrey added. "What we're trying to do is get you to feel it."

[h/t the Cut]