In other words, the apple don’t fall far from the tree.
The ongoing controversy surrounding this year’s second annual Academy Awards “white out” represents this tainted fruit. In this age of hashtag activism, the criticism of Hollywood’s exclusionary practices has now gone viral. Beware of public consensus though; it’s often misguided and uninformed.
The current discussion about the lack of diversity among this year’s acting and directing nominees ignores the fact that, even when there has been broader representation, once you get beyond these categories, the Oscars have always been as white as the cliffs of Dover. And always will be, unless something big changes.
The Oscars telecast unfolds over several hours giving awards to a range of people who work in all aspects of production; most people outside the industry only pay attention to the acting categories and Best Picture. What about set design, sound editing and art direction, for instance? These areas are more emblematic of the industry as a whole.
Turns out, the industry, with precious few exceptions, is white, from top to bottom and side to side. The studio heads and the people who have the power to greenlight movies are overwhelmingly white and male. The same is true of the casting directors, the heads of the various guilds and the people who run the talent agencies.
Hollywood is basically a private club. And this particular private club has a liberal reputation in the larger culture. In many ways this makes things worse — because liberals can be very defensive when challenged about their own acts of bias. Meaning: If there is ever going to be true change, Hollywood will first need to get over itself.
Begging to be invited to join a private club, just like pleading with an indifferent public that “black lives matter,” represents a certain thirst for validation. Asking people who once excluded you to now grace you with honors demonstrates the illusion of inclusion. These awards are mere tokens, not unlike the dreaded participation trophies that they hand out to children who engage in competitive activities these days.
The Academy Awards used to be one of the biggest cultural events of the year. But rising generations don’t have the connection to the Oscars that previous generations did. If the Academy’s brand continues to be tainted with charges of discrimination, then future audiences will be even less likely to pay attention.
Being charged with racism is not a good red-carpet look; no doubt an image-obsessed industry will react defensively to contain the public relations damage it is now suffering.
But the type of change that is needed now is not a desperate, defensive announcement like that made on Friday — that the Academy will attempt to double the number of minorities and women in its ranks by 2020. What we need instead is the type of slow but lasting structural change that transforms the entire industry.
Unless this happens, the announced changes are cosmetic, akin to putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound.
One of the best lines from the film “Steve Jobs” involves the Jobs character telling his daughter that his flaws as a father are due to the fact that he’s “poorly made.” Hollywood as we know it is poorly made to accommodate diversity and inclusion.
Boyd is the Katherine and Frank Price Endowed Chair for the Study of Race and Popular Culture at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. He appeared in “20 Feet From Stardom,” winner of the 2014 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.