A place for us
Two years ago, social media shook Hollywood with the poignant hashtag #OscarsSoWhite in reaction to the overwhelmingly homogenous list of nominees for the 2015 Academy Awards. Since then, the spotlight has illuminated Hollywood’s history of excluding people of color from the narratives chosen for film and television. By limiting the stories we are allowing to tell, we limit potential for our worldviews to stretch so we can understand characters and people who who differ from us. We cut off our empathy. In the midst of excuses from Hollywood, the people have spoken: it is time for our TVs to start playing in color.
a long ways to go
Although there has been significant progress made in the last two years, such as Viola Davis’ historic Emmy win, there is still a long ways to go, as seen in Hellboy’s Ed Skrein whitewashing controversy. With the 2017 Emmy season behind us, we can evaluate the television industry to see how Hollywood dealt with diverse representation this year.
At this years’ Emmy Awards, there were 75 nominees for the 12 acting categories. Of these 75, 59 were white. Of the 12 people who walked away with an award, three were actors of color. Most categories had only one or two minorities represented, with two categories “Best Supporting Actress in a Drama” and “Best Lead Actor in a Comedy” having a whopping three. White actors dominated the rest. Not a single actress of color received an award. Of the 16 actors of color nominated, 14 were black and two were Asian. There were no Hispanic, Latino, Alaska Native, American Indian, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander actors represented anywhere.
Whether intentional or not, the nominees of these award ceremonies reveal who Hollywood values. When considering investment, the television industry looks back at what has been bankable in the past and plays it safe financially by regurgitating those stories in updated settings with different jokes. This leads to an overwhelmingly homogenous pool of white actors telling stories about the white experience in a white America. This makes a clear statement about the seemingly collective mindset of our country. If only one type of narrative is told, we refuse to acknowledge the other voices in our neighborhoods, cities and, ultimately, our country. What people see—and do not see—on TV affects the way they view the world.
reflectng the world around us
Hollywood has a responsibility to reflect the world around us. I am not saying we need to show fairness to everyone and nominate an equal ratio of white actors to actors of color, nor shun gifted white actors and nominate less-talented actors of color for the sake of equality. Instead, Hollywood needs to start choosing to tell stories that give voice to the experiences of people in our country we rarely hear from. Hollywood needs to start choosing to give actors of color opportunities to let their talent shine in storylines that do not involve token stereotypes or comic relief. Studios need to take chances on writers, directors and producers who are willing to turn the joys and pains of our diverse nation into beautiful, 3-dimensional characters America can fall in love with.
Those stories are out there. These stories stand behind you in line for coffee. These stories worship beside you in chapel. As Christians, it is crucial for us to remain educated in this conversation so we can meaningfully participate in the creation of our culture. We may not be of this world, but we are in it right now. We cannot merely be spectators. We need to interact in a way that does not ignore or condemn. Rather, we need to pull up a chair and join the discourse with the perspective our faith gives us. The beauty of the kingdom of God is found within its diversity. We may not live in that perfect kingdom yet, but it starts here. It starts with us.