The Hollywood Diversity Problem That Everyone Is Ignoring

January 20th 2016

Laura Donovan

It has only been a week since the 88th Academy Awards nominations were announced, but there's more tension than ever surrounding this year's nods. Once again, people of color were largely overlooked, and celebrities such as Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett-Smith have taken to social media to complain. Though the Academy is absolutely at fault for failing to acknowledge talented actors of color in this year's pool of nominations, the larger issue goes beyond the prestigious award ceremony. The bigger problem is that there aren't enough people of color in higher up roles in entertainment.

Oscar Statues

A 2015 diversity report by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA found that film studio heads were 94 percent white and 100 percent male in 2012 and 2013. Film studio senior management was 92 percent white and 83 percent male, and TV network and studio heads were 96 percent white and 71 percent male. In other words, Hollywood executive offices are made up of mostly white men, and they're not giving enough people of color a chance to perform on-screen. So when awards season comes, and few if any people of color receive recognition, it's not just the nomination selection committee to blame.

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Spike Lee relayed this sentiment in an Instagram post on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.


A photo posted by Spike Lee (@officialspikelee) on

"As I see it, the Academy Awards is not where the 'real' battle is," Lee wrote. "It's in the executive office of the Hollywood studios and TV and cable networks. This is where the gate keepers decide what gets made and what gets jettisoned to 'turnaround' or scrap heap. This is what's important. The gate keepers. Those with 'the green light' vote."

Actor George Clooney told Variety in a recent statement that the Academy "used to be better at" nominating minorities. He also said it's a shame that his year's nominations shunned the work of Michael B. Jordan in "Creed" and Idris Elba in "Beasts of No Nation" but that there should be more than a handful of people of color up for nominations to begin with.

"There should be 20 or 30 or 40 films of the quality that people would consider for the Oscars," Clooney said. "By the way, we’re talking about African Americans. For Hispanics, it’s even worse. We need to get better at this. We used to be better at it."

Clooney's comment was criticized for seeming hypocritical, however. Jezebel's Kara Brown recently pointed out that Clooney, who runs a production company himself, has not produced many films with people of color in prominent roles.

"George Clooney makes up a powerful part of the 'we' that he says needs to get better," Brown wrote. "The point being, George Clooney doesn’t seem to display much interest in actually solving Hollywood’s diversity problem, even though he claims to care and is in an excellent position to do so. At least for me, his words ring hollow."

There also aren't enough people of color writing for the screen. Late last year, The Hollywood Reporter shared this graphic showing how few people of color are TV staff writers, according to the Writers Guild of America West 2015 Staffing Brief:

Hollywood staff writer diversity

Last summer, New York City-based performer Dylan Marron caught people's attention when he created the Tumblr "Every Single Word Spoken," which features film clips that have been edited to show just how little screen and speaking time people of color receive. Marron, an actor and person of color himself, told ATTN: at the time that he thinks the issue is "much more systemic than just the individual person."

Dylan Marron

"It's the people who finance movies who don't think that you can sell a movie without a famous white celebrity at the center of it," Marron said. "It's the directors who passed it who, especially if they're white and if it's a white storyteller, I think they're naturally going to cast people who look like them. I think this is an incredibly complex issue that deserves unpacking. But I think it's about who is telling the stories."

Following the Oscars announcements, Marron took to Facebook to call out the Academy for continuously letting him down:


An open letter to The Academy:Hey guys. How’s it going? Congratulations on getting your nominations out. I’m sure that...

Posted by Dylan Marron on Thursday, January 14, 2016

"I watched your nominations come out today," Marron wrote. "All white acting nominees, two years in a row. You pulled your very own Tom Hanks. And in doing so, you have minimized the already limited number of seats. A dystopian game of musical chairs."

Marron added that it's not enough to have Black comedian Chris Rock host the ceremony (Rock has also mocked the whiteness of the Academy).

"You are a very powerful organization," Marron wrote. "One that I once worshiped. But if you keep limiting the seats at the table, eventually we’re just going to find another table."

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