Advocacy Groups Say Academy, Entertainment Industry Need to Do Better

By Sameer Rao Jan 24, 2018

The demographics of this year’s Oscar nominee pool, which the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced yesterday (January 23), prompted two of the country’s largest media advocacy groups to demand stronger Black and Latinx representation in all corners of Hollywood. 

Color of Change executive director Rashad Robinson both praised the Academy’s recognition of select Black artists and demanded increased opportunities for their peers in an emailed statement yesterday. “It’s promising to see the Academy begin to recognize our community by nominating brilliant Black creators like Jordan Peele, Mary J. Blige, Yance Ford, Common and Dee Rees today—but it’s only a start," Robinson wrote.

He continued:

The fight for inclusion in Hollywood is not just about getting awards, but also about getting opportunities to tell our stories. We need more Black voices in studios, networks, agencies, guilds and on production sets. We need more leading roles for Black actors and more opportunities for Black directors, cinematographers and writers—especially for Black women, who face even greater levels of exclusion in the industry. This means real inclusion of Black people in Hollywood will require more than just Oscar nominations. Getting to the root of Hollywood’s racial exclusion problem will take real investments from decision makers across the industry to create new incentive systems for greater inclusion and representation of Black people.

Color of Change quantified the impact of that racial exclusion in the TV industry with “Race in the Writers’ Room: How Hollywood Whitewashes the Stories that Shape America," a report released in November. That study found that Black screenwriters constituted only 4.8 percent of all writers’ rooms from the 2016-2017 television season, while their White colleagues made up 86.3 percent of the total. 

Aside from "The Shape of Water" director and writer Guillermo del Toro, the major creative and acting categories included no Latinxs. The National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) announced yesterday that it will tackle this exclusion—which mirrors the disempowerment of Latinx people in the U.S. film industry at large—through a pair of protests targeting the Academy Awards. Per the announcement, the first action will take place at an Academy honorees luncheon on February 5, and the second will occur on March 3—one day before the 90th Academy Awards ceremony. The NHMC will hold both actions at to-be-released locations and times. 

"Our upcoming demonstrations are only the first of what will become increasingly aggressive wake-up calls to Hollywood studios to end institutionalized racism against Latinos," NHMC president Alex Nogales said in the statement. "By targeting the Academy Awards, we’re serving notice to the motion picture industry that we’re not asking for equity anymore. We’re demanding it.”

The NHMC announcement cited several findings from “Inequality in 900 Popular Films," a 2017 study from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Per the study, 72 of the 100 highest-grossing films in 2016 featured zero Latina characters. And Latinx characters accounted for only 3.1 percent of racially and ethnically identifiable characters in the 900 films the authors examined, which were released between 2007 and 2016.