As this is Oscar weekend around the globe (and especially relevant here in Los Angeles) I continue to read about the proposed boycott of the Oscars because no African-American actor (female or male) has been nominated for the top four Academy acting awards.
While I will not weigh in on whether this boycott is a good idea, I will weigh in on why I think diversity in fiction is so very important.
First, a little personal background that may shed some light on why I feel so strongly about diversity portrayal.
I grew up as the only Jewish student in all my elementary school, junior high school and high school classes. Almost all students in these schools were white. Only English was heard being spoken in public places. I couldn’t wait to leave what I considered my insular home town.
Now I live in Los Angeles and each day I am thrilled to hear numerous languages as I walk around my neighborhood and see people from all parts of the globe. I value this diversity and hopefully learn from it.
Not all people have the opportunity to live in such a diverse location. Or, if they do, they may not have the opportunity to interact with people other than those similar to themselves.
This is why fiction in books, movies, TV shows and on the Internet is so important. Fiction can introduce us to those diverse people we don’t have the opportunity to meet in everyday life.
(To be clear — Actors of color can and should portray fictional characters who are not necessarily of color. The award-winning musical HAMILTON features many actors of color portraying historical white people such as many of the Founding Fathers.)
It is important to see female fictional characters portrayed in powerful roles (cheers for the current TV shows SUPERGIRL and AGENT CARTER although non-comic strong female fictional characters such as in the new TV shows BLINDSPOT and QUANTICO are even more satisfactory). And it is equally important to see non-white people in fictional stories because fiction stories influence our view of non-white people in the real world.
The February 26, 2016, Wall Street Journal article “Hollywood Wrestles With Diversity” by Ben Fritz states:
Comcast Corp.’s Universal Pictures, for example, is widely recognized as a leader in on-screen racial diversity with recent movies such as “Straight Outta Compton” and the “Fast and Furious” series. But its team of executives who oversee development and production are the least racially diverse of any major studio in Hollywood.
And Fritz goes on to say, “Diversifying the Oscar nominees will be difficult, most in Hollywood agree, unless the movie business itself becomes more diverse at all levels.”
(On another issue, the tiny number of women ever nominated for Best Director for the Oscars is beyond reprehensible. Of course, this is partly because of the uphill battle that women directors face in getting the director slots on major studio films. And when women do manage to wrestle a director slot on a major film, their efforts are often ignored.)
The most interesting info in Fritz’s article may be:
Director and producer J.J. Abrams recently instituted a new rule at his production company, Bad Robot: When agents submit the names of clients to be considered for acting, directing or writing jobs, the lists must include women and minorities who are, at minimum, roughly representative of their percentages of the U.S. population.
Perhaps other top directors and producers will follow suit. Or perhaps Hollywood will continue as before — ignoring that people want to see fictional characters (and the directors of those actors in the fictional stories) who reflect the diversity of the human experience.
© 2016 Miller Mosaic LLC
Phyllis Zimbler Miller (@ZimblerMiller) has an M.B.A. from The Wharton School and is the author of fiction and nonfiction books/ebooks. Phyllis is available by skype for book group discussions and may be reached at email@example.com
Her Kindle fiction ebooks may be read for free with a Kindle Unlimited monthly subscription — see www.amazon.com/author/phylliszimblermiller — and her Kindle nonfiction ebooks may also be read for free with a Kindle Unlimited monthly subscription — see www.amazon.com/author/phylliszmiller