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Hollywood's Decade Of Diversity And Activism

It's been a defining decade for Hollywood. (David McNew/Getty Images)
It's been a defining decade for Hollywood. (David McNew/Getty Images)

From the #OscarsSoWhite movement in 2016 to audiences buying out cinemas to see “Black Panther” and “Crazy Rich Asians” and the #MeToo movement, it’s been a defining decade for Hollywood.

The last 10 years marked a public call for gender parity and more leadership roles for women, but those cries didn’t really take off until about halfway through the decade, says Piya Sinha-Roy, senior film editor for the Hollywood Reporter. 

“It’s been funny to actually look back now at the beginning of the decade and at the beginning of my career and realize that, conversations around race were not really being had,” she says. “The very few times I even brought it up would be for films that particularly dealt with the topic. But even outside of that, those conversations weren’t being had at all. And it was almost taboo to bring it up.”

Interview Highlights

On when the conversation about diversity and inclusion began in Hollywood 

“I think when ‘12 Years A Slave’ came around and it brought a spotlight into some groundbreaking wins at the Oscars, and then right after that, we had two consecutive years of 20 all-white acting nominees at the Oscars. It resulted in the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag. That was very powerful because it started to shift the focus and the conversation. When that hashtag called for the boycott of the Oscars, that’s a big move. That’s a big call. And it forces the industry to sit up for a moment and take notice of the issue.”

On if the #OscarsSoWhite movement had an impact on the industry 

“What happened was the #OscarsSoWhite led the Academy to come out with their own initiative to try and double their membership of minority members and women by 2020. So they are definitely looking to do that. And I think that was an important step, if only because it’s had a knock on effect across major studios, major networks, agencies, everyone’s taking a look internally to see how inclusive they really are amongst their ranks. 

“The only way we’re going to achieve any kind of parity for gender and race and all other areas of underrepresented communities is to have those members of those communities in key positions that are decision-making positions in this town. Change, I think, has been coming, and it’s been good to see that that call to action in 2016 kind of actually set a motion going.” 

On “The Farewell” not qualifying for best film at this year’s Golden Globes 

“I find the discussion around language and how it plays into what is a foreign language film, what is an American film, really fascinating. I think ‘The Farewell’ director, Lulu Wang, has been very clear that her story is an American story. It’s just that America isn’t all white and all English speaking, and I think her film shows that. It shows a woman who is American, a Chinese American woman, who goes back to China to be with her ailing grandmother. And obviously, when she’s with her family, she’s speaking Mandarin. And when she’s, you know, outside of that, she’s speaking English just like a lot of us. You know, [like] people who are straddling two cultures do.”

On the rules around language in nominating films for awards

“There are rules around this for the Golden Globes best drama and then the best musical comedy categories, which is kind of their best picture prize, but divided into those two genres. They don’t permit any films with more than 50% of the dialog in non-English language. Those films automatically go into the foreign language race. So ‘The Farewell’ is in the Golden Globes foreign language race, as is Bong Joon-ho’s ‘Parasite,’ which is fully in Korean. And this happened as well last year with ‘Roma.’ So we’ve had this discussion increase, I think this year with the Oscars disqualifying Nigeria’s official entry, a movie called ‘Lionheart,’ which is in the English language because Nigeria’s official language is English. And so it really stoked a conversation around was that fair? This is a movie made by Nigerian filmmakers in Nigeria. So why could it not qualify in the international feature film category, which is now the new name for The Academy’s foreign language category? 

“The Academy is sticking to its rules that any film with, I believe, the majority dialog in a non-English language is foreign language. And so that does apply for many films. But then in the case of ‘Lionheart,’ that’s definitely created some problems because I believe only about 11 minutes of that film is in the non-English language, so therefore, it didn’t qualify.”

On the impact of the #MeToo movement on Hollywood

“The result of the #MeToo movement in Hollywood was then the Time’s Up campaign, which about 300 prominent women and industry figures in Hollywood, came together in January 2018 at the Golden Globes to announce Time’s Up campaign. … It was it is a fight towards gender parity, racial parity, parity for any underrepresented minority in Hollywood for them to finally be acknowledged, be represented and to start getting up into the areas of decision making in this town.”

“I think we are starting to see a significant shift. We have more women in the top positions at studios and networks who are getting to green light projects, finally, which is so important. I think we’re seeing more people of color rising to the top as well. It’s not enough. I will say that. But there’s been some initiatives that have been put in place with alongside Time’s Up. So there was the 4% challenge launched at Sundance in January where Tessa Thompson challenged everyone to work with 4% women in the works that they’re doing. So basically the 4% number came from the fact that women had helmed just about 4% of the top films between 2007 and 2018. So that 4% number became a call to action and it became a challenge to ask people, can you make a difference? And if each of you work with 4% women in your particular projects, how can that then affect a larger change? So Universal Pictures signed on to take this challenge. MGM voiced their support. So there was support for this. And, you know, given that this just happened, I think we are seeing, I believe this year Universal, which encompasses Focus Features and DreamWorks as well, has released seven and announced 17 more female-driven projects, female-directed projects, which is up from four in 2018. So the change is happening.”

On what the next decade is expected to bring in Hollywood

“I think this is just the very beginning of something shifting. We still have an overwhelmingly male-dominated industry and it’s a white male-dominated industry. And I should go further and say it’s a white, straight, male-dominated industry. So when you’re looking at that, you realize that the content here is not necessarily reflecting the fabric of America today. And I think that’s very important because people want to see themselves. They want to see their stories reflected. 

“I still say to this day, I don’t think I’ve seen my own story really reflected accurately. The audience is out there, and I think one thing that’s been really key over the last couple years with, as you mentioned, ‘Black Panther,’ ‘Get Out,’ ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ these movies have shown studios and the people in charge that they make money. And at the end of the day, if something makes money, you can’t ignore it.”

Cristina Kim produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Peter O’Dowd. Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web. 

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