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Hollywood: The Seller of White

By Jasmein Minhas  |

Since 1929, the Academy Awards have been a global phenomenon. For 87 years, an actor’s career has been defined with the iconic Oscar standing proudly on their shelf. A director’s next 10 films would already be written by winning the 8 pound figurine, initiating them into an cult of high fashion living and expensive wine drinking.

Leading up to the iconic awards comes a storm of films that represent a culture and community besides the one we live in. Variety magazine  recently did a study evaluating how diversity has played a role in Hollywood’s films and the results were shocking. Of the 1,663 nominations in the 4 acting categories over 87 years, less than 100 nominations have been for minorities. For the 433 nominations for Best Director, only 16 have gone to non-white candidates.  The US has a population of about 323 million, yet the 97 million people of color constantly see films that represents a society besides their own.

In its 87 years of glitz and glamor, the Oscars have turned into a hunt for stardom, the statue being fought over like fresh steak by wolves in Dior dresses and Armani suits.  In its 87 years, hundreds of celebrities have gone on to become household names, yet only 15 of them are non-white. Hattie McDaniel made history in 1940 when she became the first black American to win an Academy Award. Her win should have been one to opened doors of opportunity for all races, however it took nearly 10 years for another person of color to even be nominated and win.

In 1957, Miyoshi Umeki became the first and only, to date, Asian woman to win the golden figurine. As of 2016, including Umeki, only three actors of Asian descent have won. Haing S. Ngor was the last winner in 1984, over 30 years ago. Only five Latino actors have won an Oscar, the last one being Benicio Del Toro 15 years ago.

It wasn’t until 2001 that Halle Berry became the first black American to win for Best Actress in a Leading Role. 15 years later, she still remains the first African-American to have won that title. Steve McQueen became the first black director to win an Academy Award for his film, 12 Years A Slave. With each year of awards, the annual controversy rises of the lack of diversity in the films. With the upcoming 88th Academy Awards, people of color in the audience can’t help but wonder, “Hey, where’s my representation?”  

As of 2014, an overwhelming 83% of leading actors in Hollywood have been white. In the United States, 30% of the population is made out of Asians, Latinos/Hispanics, and blacks, yet 88% of writers are white, targetting what they assume to be a dominantly white audience. America is often referred to as the melting pot of diversity, religion, and culture, yet in Hollywood, it is anything but.

Over the years of Hollywood’s spectacular reign of being a racist industries to work in, a countless number of films have gained an infamous attraction of how they attempt to portray certain ethnicities. In the 1965 film, Othello, A-List actor Laurence Olivier was cast as Othello, an African-American man. Instead of casting an actor of the same race as the character, the decision was made to have Oliver’s face caked with black makeup and to have him speaking in a stereotypical accent for his role.

In 2014, the popular film, Exodus: Gods and Kings, a movie about Ancient Egypt, was released to a mass wave of controversy. Every leading actor in the film was white,displaying another example of a typical Hollywood miscast.

In today’s day and age, people’s minds have warped around the idea that racism no longer exists. We live in a progressive era but progress is being made in the wrong direction.  Most films do not accurately represent the 30% of Americans that are ignored in today’s media. A recent study by the University of Southern California analyzed 400 TV shows and films, and more than half had an Asian character with no speaking role.  More than one-fifth did not have any black people.

With the latest all white nominees for the upcoming Academy Awards, many celebrities plan boycotting the awards. In a recent interview with Robin Roberts, Will Smith was asked about his opinion on the lack of representation for people of color. Smith told Roberts that, “This is about children that are going to sit down and watch this show and they’re not going to see themselves represented.”

Actress Viola Davis became the first black woman to win an Emmy in the Outstanding Lead Actress category, and her speech urging Hollywood for diversity touched millions. She states that the only thing separating women of color from others is “opportunity”, stating that, “You can not win an Emmy for roles that simply aren’t there.” America is not one color, but Hollywood keep treating it as such. The popular film series, Harry Potter, has charmed millions. All eight films run for a total of 1,207 minutes, but a new video emerged of an edit of every person of color’s speaking role. The video was a shocking five minutes and 40 seconds long.

Harry Potter, Othello, and Davis’s speech are just one of many examples of how Hollywood lacks an accurate portrayal of 30% of the US’s population. Diversity is not having one person of color say less than ten lines in an all white cast. Representation is not changing another person’s physical appearance to make them appear as something they’re not. These are images that Hollywood sells. Hollywood sells people of color painted white.

The only way for Hollywood to move forward is to stop appealing to one group and inaccurately generating their idea of what it means to be Asian, black, or Hispanic/Latino. Stereotypes do not define what an ethnic group is. Having a white man play a black one does not signify diversity, but a lack of.

America welcomes everyone with warm arms but its films do the opposite. America may be a melting pot, but when it comes to films, it’s not of diversity. It’s of conformed, contorted and identical images of the same people each year, cast in the same films as the year before. Hollywood sells a lack of diversity and one color, and makes millions. Hollywood sells, but it sells the idea of white.    

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