After the #oscarssowhite spread across social media, and news outlets began covering stories of boycotts and backlash, I sat down to watch, fully expecting to see a much needed call to more diversity in Hollywood. I was wrong. What I saw was a four hour call for more of a Black presence in Hollywood. Apparently, someone forgot Black is not the only color.
There is a whitewashing of Hollywood. There's no question that a preference is given to White males, by a land slide. White women trickle in very far behind...and minorities far behind that.
From Joanna Robinson's article in Vanity Fair on equality in Hollywood, the numbers were telling. Citing a USC report, "Inequality in 700 Popular Films", only 30.2% of the 30,835 speaking roles were female in the top-grossing 700 movies from 2007-2014. Of the top 100 grossing films of 2014, "no female actors over 45 years of age performed a lead or co-lead role." The speaking characters in those top movies were broken down; 73.1% "White", 12.5% "Black", 5.3% "Asian", 4.9% "Hispanic/Latino", 2.9% "Middle Eastern", and less than 1% were "American Indian/Alaskan Native or Native Hawaiin/Pacific Islander" and 1.2% were from "other" racial and/or ethnic groupings. As for sexual orientation, "across 4,610 speaking characters in the top 100 films of 2014, only 19 were Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual. Not one Transgender character was portrayed. Ten characters were coded as Gay, 4 were Lesbian, and 5 were Bisexual."
Behind the scenes, statistics were just as bad. Film studio heads were 94% White and 100% male. Film studio senior management was 92% White and 83% male.
So, the Oscars and Chris Rock had a timely and important opportunity. They had the chance to bring together all of the minority groups, and call out the all White male structure of Hollywood. They had the opportunity to join together groups of people that have been marginalized and treated as less than. They had the opportunity to give all minority groups a voice, and to create a tidal swell of support behind the diversification movement. They had the chance to bring about real change by uniting people for a common cause. And they blew it. They blew it big.
Not only did they not include any other minority group in the monologue, jokes or representation, they made jokes. Racist jokes. Using little kids. They paraded small Asian kids out onto a global stage of 80 plus million people, to become the punch line of a racial stereotype. They used their ethnicity for a laugh. These kids, standing in front of an audience of the most powerful people in Hollywood were used no differently than Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's, to get a cheap laugh at the Asians. Except that, they really are Asian. And they will grow up, and know that who they are was the joke.
It was at this point, while sitting next to my 15 year old amazing daughter, who is from Cambodia, that I felt her pain. She, too, struggles with race in America. I looked to her. She wasn't laughing. She wasn't laughing, either, when Sasha Barron Cohen stood as Ali G. and made more jokes about people who look like her. So, here was an Oscars ceremony supposedly tackling the issue of racism in Hollywood head on, with Chris Rock at the helm of the rally cry, and Asians as a joke are acceptable. I imagine if three small Black children were brought out as examples of "great dancers", or "athletic extras", Chris Rock would not have felt the joke was quite as acceptable.
How did no one, from the writers to the producers to the director to Chris Rock himself, realize that diversity does not just apply to Black people? How did no one realize that making racial jokes during a ceremony where you're calling out systemic racism looks, plainly, ridiculous?
The ceremony was an occasion, an opening through which a real message of equality and unification could have been heard. Where a vast and diverse population could see themselves, could identify, and realize that they have the chance, the duty, to become the change they wish to see. There was that precious, golden moment to reach through the screen, to children all over the world, who feel different. Who feel unrepresented. Who feel they don't have a body, or voice, or a chance. That moment to allow them to see a different future for themselves. And that those they look up to are in the fight for change with them. For Black children, that happened. For anyone and everyone else, it sorely did not. I wish that the Academy and Chris Rock had remembered that the world is not Black and White. There is a great deal of color to be seen. And without it, progress is not real progress after all.