The Missing Piece of the Oscars’ Diversity Conversation – The Atlantic

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Renee Tajima-Peña, a documentary filmmaker and professor of Asian American studies at UCLA who won an Oscar in 1987 for her work on the documentary Who Killed Vincent Chin?, said the civil-rights movement of the 20th century indelibly shaped how the country, and by extension, Hollywood, thinks about race. But it’s an anachronistic mindset. “Now, on the ground, when people think of race, they think of this whole range of white, black, brown, yellow, red, and all the nuances and layers,” she said.

Expanding the Oscars discussion beyond black actors and filmmakers doesn’t diminish them or the unique challenges they face. After all, their relative visibility hasn’t translated into anything close to decent representation throughout the industry. Though blacks are slightly over-represented in terms of Oscar wins in acting categories, for example, they’re under-represented in directing (especially black women), according to a USC study. As The Economist noted:

These are the numbers that critics of Hollywood should be most concerned about, along with the dearth of top roles for Hispanic and Asian actors. Best Actor nominations and wins—in which black actors have done decently, 2015 and 2016 excepted—seem to be the wrong target.

I spoke with several people of color who have worked for decades as producers, directors, writers, actors, and agents in the film industry to get a better sense of how they’ve dealt with Hollywood’s whitewashing problem over the years, and what they make of the situation today.

Involving all minority groups in the mainstream diversity discussion is necessary, but it also raises complicated questions about the merits and limits of solidarity. To what extent should people of color focus on increasing opportunities for all people of color, versus their own communities?

After all, the systemic issues in Hollywood that hurt black directors are the same ones that make it hard for Asian Americans to get top film roles, or for Native Americans to receive non-stereotypical portrayals. As Boyd told me, “When you say that Hollywood is overwhelmingly white and male that’s to the exclusion of everything else.” But blacks, Asians, Latinos, and Native Americans also have different histories in this country, which means different challenges and advantages. Lumping everyone in the same category raises the real risk of ignoring those differences rather than better understanding them.

The Missing Piece of the Oscars’ Diversity Conversation – The Atlantic