It's hard to turn on the news without seeing something about the Oscars and diversity. I stand in solidarity with those who recognize and address the problem, but in my opinion the lack of diversity at the Oscars is the result of a much bigger problem. Changing the Academy Awards nomination process is like adding a new coat of paint to a house with termites nibbling at the foundation. It looks pretty on the outside, but you're not addressing the crumbling infrastructure.
The lack of diversity isn't in the movies that ultimately make it to be reviewed by the Academy members. The lack of diversity is in the stories chosen to be produced by studios throughout the year and the roles that are offered to actors of color. The lack of diversity is in the overlooking of black screenwriters in writing black characters that are more than stereotypes or placeholders among a largely white cast. The problem is the lack of promotion of movies with majority black cast or the limited release to theaters. The lack of diversity and lack of enthusiasm for movies produced with more realistic portrayals of black characters leads to apathy among the industry which trickles down to apathy among the viewers. It can be seen among the responses to the outrage. Many people of color echoed that they didn't expect or hope to get recognized by the Academy anyway.
I consider myself to be a movie enthusiast. I love movies and I watch a wide range of movies without prejudice. In my opinion, a well-written and well-acted movie deserves recognition no matter who is in the cast. However, I still feel the sting or challenge when I watch movies and I don't see anyone that looks like me. There are many times I have watched a movie and wondered why an actor of color couldn't play the role. Black actors seem to have to choose between playing stereotypical characters or being jammed into a role that is changed to accommodate a black person just to attract black moviegoers even if it's doesn't make sense. But, they rarely have their own character arc or an interesting backstory.
While I appreciate the portrayals of black people during slavery and civil rights, our experiences are much more far-reaching and diverse. It seems like studios think the only way to create tension or express the depth of the black experience is to tell the story over and over again of our enslavement or denial of rights. People of color have many varied experiences and deal with issues very similar to that of our white counterparts. The movie, "The Best Man 2," recently portrayed a close group of black friends who are touched by cancer. Personally, I've lost a whole line of my lineage due to illness like cancer. We deal with death, financial setbacks, parental and marital strife, strained relationships, addiction and fertility issues just like everyone else in the world, but we also have the racial undertones and culture differences which could provide a new perspective, if we were permitted to share our stories.
The majority of my friends are college-educated, married with children and own their own homes with disposable income who would love to spend their dollars on a night out watching characters that tell stories they can relate to. The industry is mystified when a black movie that doesn't involve violence generates a huge profit. They ignore the fact that people of color are starving for more realistic portrayals of their lives and will come out in droves to see their beloved actors play full-fledged, multi-dimensional, flawed characters filled with internal challenges.
We will still play the evil characters or the comic relief, but there needs to be a balance of more diverse roles that offer black actors the ability to show the complexity of life. We need to be freed from the box and allowed to share versions of ourselves that isn't communicated through comedic television shows, news or stereotypes. If the industry committed to trusting black screenwriters to tell these stories or to discovering lush, layered character-driven movies about people of color than there would be no problem with black actors, directors and screenwriters not being among the nominations for the Academy Awards unless members were intent on ignoring them.
I saw a quote from Michael Caine where he alluded to black actors waiting their turn to get their nomination and that it can take years before they get one. It takes a lot longer to get a nomination when you aren't given the type of roles that help you shine in a way that would lead to recognition. It's hard to have a standout performance without a well-written part. It takes a lot longer when you have to compete among the majority of black actors and actresses in Hollywood for a minute number of pivotal roles. It takes a lot longer when no one believes your stories are worth telling. If we can remove that barrier and allow the diverse stories and roles to flood the industry, the problem will resolve itself. I also think the industry will find they make more money as the viewers they are alienating migrate to the theaters.