Once all 20 of the Academy Awards acting nominations this year went to white actors, Hollywood’s longstanding diversity issues emerged (once again) in national conversation. The responses have been wide-ranging: outrage, disappointment, and tone-deaf ambivalence. But Variety’s new magazine cover is addressing the issue in a way paralleled by few in the industry: It’s taking responsibility.
In front of a white backdrop, the typically gold statuette stands alone, whitewashed, with the headline, "Shame on Us."
The statement points to broad criticisms pegged to the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag created last year by April Reign (@ReignOfApril), managing editor of BroadwayBlack.com. But more importantly, it points to the goal of the cover story, written by Variety’s senior film reporter James Rainey and awards editor Tim Gray, which points out that the film industry can’t keep ignoring the broader lack of diversity in its ranks. Instead, it’s time to look in the mirror.
Diversity isn’t just the Academy’s problem — it’s Hollywood’s problem
The Oscar nomination controversy hinges largely on the state of representation (or lack thereof). While Academy demographics are kept under wraps, a 2012 Los Angeles Times report revealed one startling fact: The profile of the average Academy member was a white man who was roughly 63 years old.
But as Rainey and Gray note, most of the film industry shares this flaw: "It would be a ‘pigment of the imagination’ — as Archie Bunker once liked to say — to believe that the diversity challenge emerged suddenly in 2016, whether within the Academy or the business at large."
Rainey and Gray pointed out that the conversation also has to be had among major talent agencies, talent guilds, and studios. The two asked many of them to issue statements around diversity. Few did. However, the Directors Guild of America had this to say: "It is time to be clear — structural changes are needed."
The Academy is taking the lead, but the rest of Hollywood has to follow suit
The Academy has been proactive in its response to recent criticism. Last year, the Academy had its largest incoming class, inviting 322 people to join the ranks of the industry’s finest — 23 percent of whom were people of color and 28 percent of whom were women. Last week, Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs pledged to double the number of people of color and women in the organization's membership by 2020.
But others have to figure out ways to also demonstrate an earnest commitment to the cause. And at the moment, some are.
Focus Features recently launched the Lili Elbe Fellowship. The fellowship is named after the transgender woman at the heart of the Oscar-nominated film The Danish Girl. Given the fact that Elbe is played by a cisgender man — Best Actor nominee Eddie Redmayne — instead of a transgender woman, this change couldn't be more timely.
The goal is to make sure that Hollywood doesn’t just settle for getting transgender people’s stories on the big screen. By investing in transgender directors through mentorship and a $10,000 grant, the fellowship shows a commitment to making sure their stories are told and crafted on their own terms.
A problem can't be fixed until it's acknowledged. That's why these kinds of initiatives, and Variety's cover, are a necessary part of the process.
The Academy, and Hollywood in general, has historically denied access to people who do not fit the old white man mold. The time has come to face up to this fact. At least by being honest about the disgraceful state of diversity in the film industry, steps can be taken to institutionally create space for those who've been systemically sidelined, so #OscarsSoWhite doesn't happen again.