The battle of representation: Why diversity in Hollywood matters
By Sarah Green, Contributor
The word “representation” is thrown around a lot nowadays. Over time, it has become a politically correct buzzword that many people support from a distance. It is a relevant hashtag we see on social media that we like, retweet and share. It’s a timely video we appreciate and then forget about. It’s a stirring speech that goes in one ear and out of the other.
We’re all guilty of this surface-level commitment at times. Instead of passionately advocating for representation, we passively use the term to seem socially connected and relevant. In times like these, we cannot let the true meaning and power of this word be overshadowed by what is convenient or trendy. It is crucial we remember the faces and voices of the people who have fought, are fighting and will continue to fight for representation.
Hollywood is a major battleground for representation. Beneath all of the glitter and the glam, marginalized groups are fighting an uphill battle for representation in the entertainment industry. Despite the continual media coverage and the various movements started, Hollywood’s progress on this matter has been practically non-existent over the past decade.
According to a 2018 study released by the University of Southern California (USC), women made up only 33 per cent of leads or co-leads in the top films of 2017. This study also found that 70.7 per cent of film characters were white. Another study released last year conducted by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) found that minorities make up just 13.9 per cent of leads and 12.6 per cent of film directors. The same study found that female film directors are a rare breed in Hollywood, making up just 6.9 per cent.
In an interview with The Guardian, author of the USC study, Stacy Smith, said, “There is a cacophony of voices crying out for change, but Hollywood hasn’t changed its hiring practices. We’re seeing very stable trends and very little movement in storytelling.”
When looking at the severe lack of representation in Hollywood, it is easy to feel disheartened. However, when Sandra Oh delivered her opening monologue at the Golden Globes earlier this year, there was a tangible sense of hope in the room. Oh, 47, made history by being the first person of colour to host the Golden Globes. Not only that, Oh was also the first Asian woman to be nominated for an Emmy in the Lead Actress category. In her heartfelt speech, Oh embodied the definition of bravery and authenticity.
“In all honesty, I said ‘yes’ to the fear of being on this stage tonight because I wanted to be here to look out into this audience and witness this moment of change,” said Oh. “And I’m not fooling myself. Next year could be different. It probably will be. But right now, this moment is real. Trust me, it is real. Because I see you. And I see you. All of these faces of change. And now so will everyone else.”
Oh also paid a tribute to her Korean immigrant parents in a beautiful way.
“There are two people here tonight that I’m so grateful they’re here with me. I’d like to thank my mother and my father,” said Oh. “Umma, appa… Saranghaeyo.”
This translates to, “Mom and dad, I love you.”
Oh’s candid display of vulnerability highlighted the importance of diversity. This year, the Golden Globes made history by breaking its record of diverse nominations. Oh’s emotional monologue solidified this crucial milestone for representation within the entertainment industry. Her words ignited a spark of hope in the hearts and minds of many. However, it is up to us to ensure this spark does not fade.
With the Oscars coming up next month, the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag remains on the forefront of many people’s minds. Therefore, it is crucial we keep this conversation about representation alive. In terms of diversity, this year looks promising for the Academy. The current nominees include two directors of colour and five of the eight Best Picture nominees are centred around people of colour.
However, many believe more needs to be done to hold Hollywood accountable. Actor Michael B. Jordan recently spoke out about his support of inclusion riders. An inclusion rider fights for representation by ensuring a certain level of diversity is present within the cast and production staff on set. It takes form as a provision in actors’ or filmmakers’ contracts.
Smith, who conducted the USC study on representation, developed the idea of inclusion riders.
“Good intentions are not enough to create change,” she said in an interview with Bustle. “Hollywood needs tangible, actionable solutions that will usher in real transformation. Our work brings to light the steps that companies and individuals can take if they want to see results.”
Evidently, we have a long ways to go in terms of representation. However, we are taking steps in the right direction; Sandra Oh’s speech at the Golden Globes is proof of that. In that moment, representation wasn’t some distant concept that we lightheartedly tweet about — it was tangible.
Moving forward, it is crucial we do not diminish this moment of change. Instead, we need to come together, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation and fiercely advocate for representation across the board. We need to utilize the platforms we have been given, call for change and take action. And above all, we cannot let buzzwords determine what causes are worth fighting for.