Tapping into the Zeitgeist: #OscarsSoWhite Makes its Mark on Hollywood and Beyond

In our post, “After OscarsSoWhite, Now What?” we discussed just how far the movie industry had to go to reflect global diversity. Fast forward one year, it’s hard to disagree the 2017 Oscars were dazzling for people of color. Six black actors and Indian-Englishman, Dev Patel, vied for major acting awards, winning two. Moonlight, an independent film based on a semi-autobiographical play about the coming of age of a young, gay black man in Florida–which had no featured Caucasian characters–won Best Picture, upsetting what people thought was a sure thing for La La Land. African American actor, Mahershala Ali, won Best Supporting Actor for Moonlight, making him the first Muslim to win an acting Oscar. The response to the film’s win was a wider release; it was announced following the awards Moonlight was set to open on 1500 screens nationwide. The much admired and beautiful Viola Davis, a dark-complected actress who has spoken publicly about her body and hair insecurity, gave an impassioned acceptance speech upon her Best Supporting Actress win for Fences, again expressing her wonder at coming from abject poverty to a place in the spotlight. Another work, Erza Edelman and Caroline Waterlow’s Best Documentary Feature win, OJ: Made in America, while evoking sad and disquieting subject matter, tapped zeitgeist issues of race and justice and fame.

In response, voices we’d heard loudly in 2016 were hopeful, yet measured. April Reign, whose ubiquitous 2016 hashtag, #OscarsSoWhite, became an energizing rallying cry, pointed out that we have to be vigilant about inclusion of not only black faces and voices, but all the colors and circumstances that make up the real world. Her twitter post noted: “One year of films reflecting the Black experience doesn’t make up for 80 yrs of underrepresentation of ALL groups.” And realistically, the films we enjoyed this year were in production or pre-production for years before their release dates. So what gives?

#OscarsSoWhite undoubtedly was influential. In response to the outcry, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, planted seeds of change by successfully leading a campaign to diversify the voting membership. The hashtag also threw light on a small and specific film like Moonlight, and helped make Hidden Figures a box office smash, surpassing La La Land domestically by $17 million as of today. As several people have pointed out, however, the power structure in Hollywood hasn’t changed yet and remains predominantly white and male, but there’s no denying the door has been cracked open.

The phenomenal success of multi-cultural series television and online programming, and the growing population of millennials and those who will come after are propelling the rhythm of contemporary culture. Not only are millennials a more accepting generation, they are also more pragmatic about the long-term necessity of diversity. Shows like black-ish, Atlanta, Fresh Off the Boat, Scandal, Empire and Insecure explore sometimes real (controversial and painful) and sometimes outlandish themes. Why are these shows so popular, drawing large and diverse audiences? Because content is key. Millennials are interested in unique content providing an experience, over anything. (That’s kind of what all viewers want.) And millennials would like their ads to look the same, thank you.

The ad world has determined it’s content celebrating diversity as a central theme that has made the most successful campaigns in the last five years. Diversity casting is important, but it’s what advertising depicts and says that works — millennials respond to an experience and a theme reflecting the world they inhabit. They are also paying attention to what your company is doing with their profits, and what your company culture is like. And since they are the most diverse audience in history with purchasing power of over $1 Trillion annually, they can’t be painted with a broad brush. Mainly, they want to be authentically engaged or entertained by companies with some social consciousness.

I’ve always known TV had its finger on the pulse, and as the audience goes, so go the advertisers. We are moving forward.

Questions to consider:

  1. How well are advertisers doing when it comes to including diverse talent in media campaigns?
  2. How well are advertisers doing when it comes to tackling issues outside of racial diversity, such as gender, age and ableism?
  3. 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?

After #OscarsSoWhite, What Comes Next?

Photo for OscarsSoWhite - 2016-04-09 - Edited

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

  1. How well are advertisers doing when it comes to including diverse talent in media campaigns?
  2. 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?
  3. 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)?

Cosmetics: It’s A Mindset Thing

To say that the cosmetics industry has come a long way as far as reflecting diversity is an understatement.

Over the years, I’ve interviewed hundreds of women of color about their cosmetics “wishes.”  The common desire: “We want to be able to buy quality brands of makeup and be assured that we can get foundation shades that work for us whatever our skin tone.”  Companies paid attention, saw the business opportunity and eventually granted their wish.

Brands have expanded their color palates and there is rarely an ad today that doesn’t feature a range of ethnicities including women on the darker end of the color spectrum.

Imagine my surprise when I read about Sudanese model Nykhor Paul’s experience.  Ms. Paul revealed that she has to bring her own cosmetics to photo shoots because they do not carry shades for darker skin tones.  While this was commonplace back in the day, it seems that back in the day includes nowadays!  Ms. Paul took to social media to voice her displeasure, Why do I have to bring my own makeup to a professional show when all the other white girls don’t have to do anything but show up wtf!  Don’t try to make me feel bad because I am blue black. ”

Black women have been gracing fashion runways for decades.  More recently, Lupita Nyongo has become the face of Lancôme, a role that has traditionally belonged to white models or celebrities.  With this reality, there needs to be a mindset of inclusion within the community of makeup artists.  It’s time for this community to mirror cosmetics manufacturers and cater to the entire colorful universe of potential clients.

The New Singles – Take 2

It looks like we’re not the only ones thinking that marketers are missing the boat by not considering New Singles in their marketing strategies.

A recent story on NPR’s Marketplace highlighted the general lack of advertising and marketing targeted to single women. A few exceptions got our attention – Lowe’s current TV spot focuses on a single woman (no kids or man in sight) with a home improvement project list. Given that a large part of the growth in home ownership in the past decade has been driven by single women, Lowe’s appears to be on the right track.

More Magazine – targeted to the vital 40+ woman, ran a cover story in their April 2010 issue entitled “Loving La Vida Solo“. The title alone serves to reinforce the thinking behind the New Singles segment:

“…coming to discover that happiness – a full life, a full heart – can be theirs with or without a partner.”