The Academy Awards are just a few days away, and amid the excitement is some vocal frustration at the fact that the films and people being recognized are, once again, overwhelmingly white and male.
It's a well-documented problem not just in the Academy but in Hollywood overall — and the brilliant Tumblr Every Single Word found a creative way to illustrate the severity of the issue. Created by 27-year-old Venezuelan American actor and playwright Dylan Marron, Every Single Word shows what Hollywood films would look like if they were condensed to just the lines spoken by minorities over the course of their run times. As it turns out, many would be much more like Vine videos than feature-length films.
Marron was fed up with hearing that as a nonwhite actor he was "never going to play the romantic male lead," as he told the Washington Post's Soraya Nadia McDonald in an interview in July 2015, so he set out to show just how few minorities are playing lead parts in Hollywood.
Take, for instance, American Hustle, which was nominated for 10 Oscars in 2015 — Marron's minorities-only cut comes in at 53 seconds:
Or critical darling Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, which clocks in at an anemic 10 seconds:
Or the 2014 Biblical epic Noah, coming in at ... zero:
To the Post's McDonald, Marron explained how he picks the movies he features on his Tumblr:
There’s a big variety of movies, but they do have one thing in common: all of these movies are not about whiteness. They are not about white people. They are not about the experience of being white and they are not historical dramas that are just about white people. They’re not about whiteness. They are about really universal and very human themes.
So my question with these videos is why are we using white people to tell these universal stories? And what is that saying? I think it’s saying something really dangerous and the message it gives to people of color — and I can say this as a person of color who grew up watching these stories that I related to thematically and didn’t see reflections of myself in them — what it tells you is you don’t really have a place in this world.
This is not a new issue
The idea of white as the "normal" is longstanding, pervasive, and ties into the concept of implicit bias that manifests itself in American society in areas as widespread as criminal justice and education.
One area in which diversity has seen an uptick recently is in television: Shows like ABC’s Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat and the ratings behemoth that was the first season of Fox’s Empire proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that not only is there an audience for series centered on nonwhite characters, but that they have the potential to be hugely successful.
However, there's also the Mindy Kaling–created The Mindy Project, the first network TV series created by and starring an Indian American (and a woman, no less), which has been criticized for not having enough focus on the lead's ethnicity — or as Al Jazeera's E. Alex Chung phrased it, "Almost any exchange [Kaling's character Mindy] Lahiri has about race appears meant to prove that she is not one of the others but a full-blooded American."
But it is pervasive
But while television is making strides toward diversity, the silver screen still notably lags behind. In its 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report, UCLA's Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies found that "[a]lthough minorities posted several modest gains in several Hollywood employment arenas since the last report, they remain underrepresented on every front." The report examined the top 200 theatrical releases from both 2012 and 2013, and found that minorities, who comprise 40 percent of the US population, were sorely underrepresented as male leads:
As cast members:
And as directors:
The Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity, from the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative at USC's Annenberg School, found that of 414 films and TV series studied, women had only one-third of the speaking roles and minorities just 28.3 percent.
And the lack of diversity is not just for lack of effort; as the Washington Post's Alyssa Rosenberg pointed out in a May 2015 piece aptly titled "How Hollywood stays white and male":
the same laws that protect against employment discrimination also block certain efforts to hire more women and people of color. Networks can set goals for how many female writers they want to hire, or how many characters of color they want to see on screen, but they can’t legally use quotas to reach those goals.
Marron's Tumblr serves to point out that while show biz may be improving in some areas, its diversity problem is far from "fixed." And he summed up that impact on this year's Oscars succinctly: