One of the most stirring moments at Sunday night’s Academy Awards came when three of disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s accusers introduced a video montage to promote “equality, diversity, inclusion, intersectionality.”
Featuring interviews with trailblazing filmmakers like Barry Jenkins, Ava DuVernay, Greta Gerwig and Dee Rees, the montage crystalized a lot of the themes of the evening.
But the examples seemed cherry-picked and already widely known, and many of the milestones that it lauded only came in the last year or two. The effort felt half-baked and premature: It gave Hollywood something to celebrate, while hiding the larger lack of progress and masking the fact that the industry, and society as a whole, has a lot more work to do.
Study after study on diversity in Hollywood produces the same findings: Women and people of color are woefully underrepresented on screen. Behind the camera, the people who make movies in Hollywood and the executives who decide which movies get made are largely straight, white men. The numbers tick up every now and then, but there is a lack of substantial, permanent progress.
Last week, a study from the University of California, Los Angeles, also highlighted how Hollywood has been slow to realize that audiences prefer diversity on screen ― the same week that Marvel’s “Black Panther” demolished Hollywood’s longstanding myth that movies by and about people of color do not perform well with international audiences.
“Get ready for some more ‘Get Outs’, for some more ‘Black Panthers.’ Get ready for some more ‘Wrinkle in Times.’ We’re here, and we’re not going anywhere,” Lee Daniels, director of “Precious” and “The Butler,” and co-creator of the hit TV series “Empire,” predicted in Sunday’s montage.
In the past, Hollywood executives often considered these hits the exception rather than the rule. It’s too early to tell if they’re learning otherwise.
Largely unmentioned in the segment was the fact that for all of Hollywood’s talk about the need for more black representation, the situation is even worse for Latinos and Asians in the entertainment industry.
Other parts of the show made that clear. In recent years, the Academy has made an effort to include more Latino and Asian performers on stage ― Sunday night’s show again featured a diverse slate of presenters, from “Star Wars” star Kelly Marie Tran, to “Jane the Virgin” and “Annihilation” star Gina Rodriguez ― but still fails to nominate them.
And for all of the focus on the Me Too and Time’s Up movements and the brave women who have led the charge, the Academy still managed to reward Kobe Bryant, who was accused of raping a hotel worker in 2003; and Gary Oldman, whose then-wife said that he beat and choked her in 2001.
Meanwhile, E! host Ryan Seacrest, facing sexual assault allegations from his former stylist, was still a prominent fixture on the network’s red carpet coverage.
Sure, it is encouraging to hear messages of empowerment for women and people of color, and to see awards go to movies like “Moonlight” and “Get Out,” which, even a few years ago, would have been such unlikely Oscar winners. But until the industry produces genuine, lasting progress in diversity and representation ― both in front of and behind the camera ― it will still seem like mere lip service.
One moment in the montage itself encapsulates how this is not the first time expectations of change have surrounded Hollywood.
“When ‘Thelma and Louise’ came out, the huge prediction in the press was, “This changes everything! We’re going to see so many more movies starring female characters,” the movie’s star, Geena Davis, said. “That didn’t happen.”
Davis, who has spent years advocating for greater female representation in movies, went on to declare that “this is now that moment.”
It’s too early to say if she’s right.