Now that the 2016 award season is complete, what comes next? While the #OscarsSoWhite discussion brought up a wide range of challenges in Hollywood, how do we initiate real change that showcases, recognizes, and celebrates diverse stories?
Our first task is to re-evaluate how we measure onscreen success. The last four years has ushered in a host of powerful films featuring African American stories and lead actors including The Help, Fruitvale Station, and 12 Years a Slave. We can’t take for granted that these films have showcased amazing character portrayals that have shown the African American experience in nuanced, poignant, and thoughtful performances.
Second, we have to celebrate other movies such as Selma showcasing the first onscreen portrayal of Martin Luther King, Jr. in nearly 26 years; Lee Daniels’ The Butler holding the No. 1 spot at the box office for three straight weeks during Summer 2013 (Hollywood Reporter); and Creed being helmed by 29-year-old director Ryan Coogler in just his second directorial offering.
Third, we have to create an infrastructure where we look beyond Hollywood and consider rising talent from web series on YouTube to short clips on Instagram. While these media are far from the high-caliber production of a Hollywood set, these innovators are providing multi-dimensional stories and perspectives that shouldn’t be ignored.
While the 2016 award season felt like an all-too-familiar snubbing of multicultural talent, the media coverage surrounding #OscarsSoWhite presents an opportunity for Hollywood to reflect the diversity that is America.
What to Watch For
Nate Parker’s highly anticipated debut film Birth of a Nation, which was enthusiastically received at the Sundance Film Festival in January and sold for a record-breaking $17.5 million to Fox Searchlight (Variety), will be an interesting film to watch and even more intriguing to see how it will be received next award season. Birth of a Nation will showcase the first onscreen portrayal of Nat Turner’s 1831 slave uprising in Southampton, Va.
Questions to Consider
- How well are advertisers doing when it comes to including diverse talent in media campaigns?
- How has Millennials’ acceptance of diversity, in its broadest expression (i.e., race, socio-economics, gender expression, etc.), as the norm, influenced marketing to this coveted community?
- What can the film industry learn from diversity successes on television (such as Blackish or Fresh Off the Boat), on Broadway (like Hamilton) and on the web (e.g., Isha Rae or Keraun and Simone)?