By Angelica Chong
Depending on who you speak to, racism in Hollywood may or may not be a serious problem. This is a lie, because the only people who think there isn’t racism in Hollywood—or that it isn’t actually a problem—are Mel Gibson and Mel Gibson’s fans. Everyone in Hollywood knows there’s a serious deficit of leading roles, productions, and opportunities for people of color. Everyone outside of Hollywood knows it too, if the torrent of think pieces and articles published after awards season every year is anything to go by.
The problem lies with the people who don’t speak—the people at the top. They’re the ones with the power to actually change things, but the flipside to that is that they also have the power to make sure things stay exactly the same. It would be wrong, though, to equate the influence of their personal racism with industry-wide racism. While many of the top executives in Hollywood are actually personally racist and thus are a huge part of the problem, we must remember that at the end of the day, film studios are for-profit companies. What this means is that there’s an underlying economic reason (not a very good one, admittedly) for this lack of diversity.
Large film companies follow a very simple business plan: first, find or create something wildly popular. Second, milk it for all its worth. Third, repeat the first and second steps. They go for the tried and tested, like Liam Neeson in yet another action flick and Michael Bay’s orgiastic explosions. It has worked in the past, so executives—who are businesspeople, not cinephiles—cross their fingers and hope it’ll work in the future, at the expense of unknown and therefore unquantifiable entities like, for example, a black Spiderman. One has earned them millions of dollars, and the other is a sign of a more progressive and equal society. No prizes as to which one they’ll choose.
This seems horribly cynical and depressing, but this is better than the alternative, where movies about and starring people of color are not made just because they are about and starring people of color. Consumers, critics, even the mainstream press establishment, are chomping at the bit for a more diverse and inclusive Hollywood. The powers that be are not ready, but the people are. For every bigot that insists that Idris Elba can’t play the next James Bond because he isn’t a “real” Englishman, there is a whole group of young, passionate people pushing back against the status quo. Indie films like “Dear White People” are getting rave critical reviews, and it is support like this that will make studios realize that if they don’t change, they’re going to get left behind. There is still racism in Hollywood, but instead of trying to change the minds of the intolerant, we should be focusing on helping those who are already fighting the good fight.
Angelica Chong is a Contributing Writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org