Demanding diversity

88

Hollywood’s biggest night is under fire — and it’s long overdue.

A photo collage of the 20 actors who received Academy Award nominations this month illustrates the issue well: All 20 are white. This was the second consecutive year where actors of color were completely shut out of the acting categories of the country’s most-respected entertainment-awards show.

The development caused some big-name celebrities, like Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith, to back out of the show. Apart from pressing for recognition from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the backlash is generating needed conversation about the value of industry diversity year-round.

As several actors have noted, Hollywood’s diversity problem is multifaceted.

In terms of the Oscars and other awards shows, it appears that the gatekeepers, the industry insiders who identify nominees, are just as homogeneous as this year’s Academy Award picks. While it may sound like a cliché, having a “seat at the table” is an important step toward fair and accurate representation. It’s something that we in the LGBT community have learned: When members of our community are granted access to decision-making positions — boards, commissions or even elected office — our issues and interests are better-represented.

Apart from ensuring representation at leadership levels, opportunities need to also be expanded for minority actors. So many of today’s leading films feature all-white casts. Mixed-race casts and films featuring leading roles for people of color are needed; the talent is absolutely there, the opportunities just need to be opened up.

In order for diversity and inclusion efforts to be successful, however, the commitment needs to be authentic — and not fueled by “tokenism.” We’ve seen countless occasions of LGBT characters being thrown into television shows or movies to simply have an LGBT character. Including a minority for the sake of saying you’ve included a minority isn’t enough. Diversity is about much more than minorities just existing in circles that have been traditionally dominated by the majority; it’s about people of all representations being well-rounded and active participants in that circle.

We in the LGBT community know the systemic impact of a lack of leadership roles and recognition. But we also know how empowering and necessary a true commitment to diversity can be.