Working Hypothesis: Streaming services will render Hollywood obsolete with their more progressive approach to diversity.
John Boyega: ‘I’m the only cast member whose experience of Star Wars was based on their race’
Famurewa, J., Maoui, Z., & Johnston, K. (2020, September 02). John Boyega: ‘I’m the only cast member whose experience of Star Wars was based on their race’. Retrieved October 09, 2020, from https://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/culture/article/john-boyega-interview-2020
Actor John Boyega recently made headlines with a spontaneous, vulnerable speech at a Black Lives Matter protest in London. Now, he is also speaking out about his experience as a black man in Star Wars. In 2015, he was marketed and written as a lead character for the first film in the new Star Wars trilogy. However, in the next film, his character was turned into a sideplot, and a white character took his leading spot in the narrative. The third film couldn’t quite give back to him what had been lost. In addition to that, Boyega was sent death threats from hateful fans upon his casting reveal because of his race. People even tried to boycott that first movie because he was in it. As if that weren’t enough, when press tours came around, stylists didn’t want him to dress too ethnically and didn’t know how to style his hair.
Perhaps Boyega is expected to smile and say that working on Star Wars was an amazing experience and opportunity, but he is not one to be silenced. These days, he is taking on projects that inspire him, challenge him, and embrace Blackness. He doesn’t stand aside when he sees something is wrong, and there is certainly something wrong in Hollywood. He experienced it firsthand.
How can TV and movies get representation right? We asked 6 Hollywood diversity consultants.
White, A. (2017, August 28). How can TV and movies get representation right? We asked 6 Hollywood diversity consultants. Retrieved October 09, 2020, from https://www.vox.com/culture/2017/8/28/16181026/hollywood-representation-diversity-tv-movies
Six diversity consultants sat down with Vox to discuss what good diversity is. What it really comes down to is characters that are not only diverse but that also have meaning and personal weight in the story. A character may be black, but do they have their own character arc and have narrative significance separate from a white character? Is that character’s experience written authentically and respectfully, or does it play into stereotypes? Will a white audience gain understanding about another person’s experience and sympathize with it? These are questions that need to be asked when tackling diversity in a story. The people working behind the camera are a huge part of the issue. A white writer or director can talk to a person of color when developing a story in order to write a more accurate non-white character, but there is a significant difference between a white creator respectfully writing a black character and a black creator writing a black character. A writer who writes from experience can add natural authenticity to a story on a level unmatched by someone who doesn’t share that experience, so what really needs to happen is getting more writers and directors of color behind the camera.
The Reckoning Over Representation: Black Hollywood Speaks Out, But Is the Industry Listening?
Low, E. (2020, June 30). The Reckoning Over Representation: Black Hollywood Speaks Out, But Is the Industry Listening? Retrieved October 12, 2020, from https://variety.com/2020/biz/features/black-representation-hollywood-inclusion-diversity-entertainment-1234693219/
Black actors have been historically mistreated in Hollywood. They are viewed as “disposable” when their white counterparts are not. White people they work with can horribly mistreat them and face no consequences. Black actors are made to feel that they don’t matter because the industry makes no move to care about them.
The industry clearly needs to change, and black voices are finally speaking out about their experiences and frustrations about how Hollywood is structured to favor white people and hold back opportunities from people of color.
For example, black people often get blocked from telling their own stories. I film or biopic centered on a black person might get pitched, which is all well and good, but a white writer or director will get signed on to make it, whether it’s for the recognizability of their name or their resume. Such a practice locks creators of color out of the room. Someone can’t become a recognizable name if they aren’t given the chance to work on big projects. Someone can’t have a resume full of impressive credits if they’re not given opportunities. Hollywood wants famous, distinguished storytellers behind projects, but the famous storytellers are mostly white because for most of Hollywood history, white people were the only ones given opportunities. It’s a vicious cycle.
While there are inclusion initiatives, they often don’t make real change. Television diversity programs are a prime example. Such programs serve as a way for writers and directors of color to get their foot in the door. Once they get that first job, though, it’s hard for them to progress. Once they’re no longer in the program, opportunities for promotion wear thin. Also, networks or studios typically pay the creators in a diversity program, not the showrunner. Thus, showrunners are thus prompted to keep these creators in low-level positions so the network will continue to pay them and then replace the creators once they’re no longer in a program with creators who are in a program so their salary won’t come out of the show’s budget. Even programs specifically designed to make a more diverse Hollywood fall flat when facing a structure that is racist to the core.
#OscarsSoWhite: how Stuart Hall explains why nothing changes in Hollywood and everything is changing.
Molina-Guzmán, I. (2016). OscarsSoWhite: how Stuart Hall explains why nothing changes in Hollywood and everything is changing. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 33(5), 438–454. https://doi.org/10.1080/15295036.2016.1227864
Minorities have been historically underrepresented both on screen, behind the camera, and in executive positions in Hollywood, and an interesting question to consider is why theatrical Hollywood makes such slow progress in diversity. The situation becomes even more interesting when considering the fact that diversity is increasing in television while change is minimal in the movies.
Movies and television reflect the real world, so looking at the stories and structures of Hollywood helps one to recognize problems and perceptions in society as a whole. When looking at old movies and noticing the blatant racism, it’s easy to write the movies off as a product of their time. However, old movies defined the archetypes of the movie industry, and thus those archetypes are still being used today, if less blatantly racist. Sometimes. That’s one reason why Hollywood changes at such a slow pace.
As the U.S. population shifts to having a larger percentage of minority citizens, the demand for diversity in entertainment also increases. In addition, minorities watch movies at a higher rate than their white counterparts.
Journalism also contributes to Hollywood’s slow diversity progress. When diversity does seem to be increasing- whether it be the success of a non-white producer or a multicultural cast of a tv show- the news praises even minimal visible diversity up-and-down and highlights the individual success of creators and actors. In doing so, the struggle and prejudice minorities in the industry face are pushed under the rug.
Minority actors are less likely to be represented by major talent agencies and therefore are less likely to be considered for major roles. When they are featured in a show or movie, the role they play is often portrayed as threatening or exotic.
The entertainment industry has a real shot at becoming more meaningfully diverse now that new ways to distribute media are becoming popular. The content on streaming services isn’t restricted and regulated the way content is in conventional Hollywood. Therefore, original content on streaming services has the ability to push boundaries that conventional Hollywood won’t approach. Streaming services also pay close attention to the wants of their audience statistically, and tailor their content to match those wants. Without the constraints of the Hollywood structure, stories that are not only diverse but complex and authentic are told.
House of Netflix: Streaming Media and Digital Lore
Burroughs, B. (2018). House of Netflix: Streaming media and digital lore. Popular Communication, 17(1), 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1080/15405702.2017.1343948
The emergence of the streaming industry challenges the long-held practices of Hollywood. As services like Netflix gain cultural impact, things like cable subscriptions lose their appeal. Younger people are leaning towards relying on streaming. With a streaming service, a person can access content from the past or present, at any time he wants, on several different devices, and also get recommendations on what to watch based on an algorithm. That on-demand capability is more appealing to many than, say, network television.
A theory in Hollywood is that of “industry lore.” Basically, that means knowing or deciding what kinds of media are possible and what kinds of media will sell. Often, “industry lore” means unspoken knowledge of what the industry’s upper echelon wants and catering to that. However, with the introduction of streaming shaking the industry up in a major way, “industry lore” has to adapt. Cable companies are falling behind because they didn’t believe in the potential of streaming services and didn’t invest when they had the chance.
Look at Netflix, which has become a cultural staple. When its original content first began winning Emmy awards, that was an indicator that the entertainment industry was changing. A shift toward streaming was beginning. Television could gain awards and critical acclaim even if it didn’t air on television. As streaming services create original content that is deemed to be of good quality by critics and general audiences, they grow more legitimate in the eyes of the industry and the general public. The ability to release a season of television all at once also changes how the industry works. Giving the viewer the ability to watch a long succession of episodes in a short amount of time allows him to better pick up on connections in the plot, thus leaving him feeling like the show is complex and of higher quality. The absence of ads on a service like Netflix is also a point for streaming. Production companies don’t have to answer to advertisers and the audience’s viewing experience doesn’t get interrupted.
With the use of algorithms, streaming services can tailor the viewer’s experience to the viewer himself, showing him content that he will likely want to see. Meanwhile, networks can only air so many shows on their lineup, which they air for millions of people at the same time, hoping that something will stick.
Audiences are also growing tired of cable companies. Many are “cutting the cord,” or cutting off their cable subscriptions and switching completely to streaming. If this trend continues, cable could become obsolete.
Race, Gender, Hollywood: Representation in Cultural Production and Digital Media’s Potential for Change
Erigha, M. (2015). Race, Gender, Hollywood: Representation in Cultural Production and Digital Media’s Potential for Change. Sociology Compass, 9(1), 78–89. https://doi.org/10.1111/soc4.12237
Hollywood has played an integral role in shaping popular culture and the minds of the general public, but the most prominent of Hollywood’s stories are told by white men in an overwhelming majority. Non-white creators are underrepresented even today, despite a push from activists and general audiences for more diversity. However, with a shift toward digital media and streaming changing the industry, the future might be a little brighter than the present.
The values depicted in movies and TV shows are the values of the people creating them. Because of Hollywood’s impact, those values- again, the values of mostly white men- become a part of society’s collective psyche. When minorities aren’t given the prominence that white men are given in entertainment, they are silenced, and their experiences and values don’t get to shape our culture the way that those of whites do.
Numerical representation is a part of the battle. Currently, minorities in entertainment are represented at a lower percentage than their share of the U.S population. Raising the numbers is a part of the battle, but the quantity is arguably meaningless if the quality of representation is sub-par. Granted, quality is subjective. Generally, characters of color who are multi-faceted and have fully realized arcs separate from a white counterpart are accepted as “good representation” in addition to creators of color getting opportunities to tell stories across a plethora of genres with as much creative control as possible. Another facet of diversity is about minorities having access to the core of Hollywood production. Currently, minorities struggle to gain access to positions of power at major studios or get signed to major talent agencies in comparison to their white counterparts.
Minorities are not only underrepresented numerically in Hollywood, but the productions that are created by minorities are often critically ignored in favor of those created by whites. For example, a Black-directed film did not win Best Picture at the Academy Awards until 2013, with Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave.
Numbers are still important though, and the numbers aren’t too promising. Consider Hollywood’s 2011-2012 season. Out of a sample of 1,061 TV shows, 73% of cable shows had minorities directing 10% or less of the episodes. Only 15% of lead roles were played by actors of color, despite racial minorities occupying 36% of the population. Theatrically, out of the 172 top-grossing films, only 10% of lead roles were played by actors of color. Writers of color are also historically underrepresented both on TV and theatrically. Writers of color made up only 9-10% of television writers and 5-6% of screenwriters from 2005-2009. If creators of color were better represented, then that would likely affect the representation seen in casting and writing as well, but alas, there is still a long way to go.
Minority actors and creators are often associated with roles or projects that perpetuate stereotypes. Actors of color often play roles that are built on stereotypes of their race, for example Asian characters that excel in martial arts. Creators are often offered work that have racialized topics. For example, Black directors and writers were overrepresented in movies about the music industry.
Portraying minorities in negative ways and perpetuating stereotypes impacts public opinion about the group being portrayed and build biases against a given group.
The growing popularity of streaming platforms could open the way for more diversity. Media does not have to appeal to a general audience- it can target a specific group of people when it’s going to be offered on a streaming platform where the audience controls its experience. Since streaming is new, minorities can take advantage of the opportunity. Hollywood has a system and a hierarchy that has been in place for decades and will be hard to change. Streaming is too new to be bogged down by that, so minorities can get their foot in the door. Positive reception to well-executed diversity in streamed media will tell Hollywood that diversity sells, and could thus push Hollywood to change its ways. Also, younger generations are more likely to want diversity in their media and are also more likely to interact with digital media, so streaming services that want to be on the cutting edge of what their audience wants will cater to the desire of more diversity.
Streaming is transforming Hollywood’s outdated ideas about inclusion, says TIFF panel
Jeremy Kay. (2020). Streaming is transforming Hollywood’s outdated ideas about inclusion, says TIFF panel. Screen International.
Streaming services are challenging the long-held entertainment industry belief that minorities don’t sell, according to Stephanie Allain, the producer of Netflix’s Dear White People. One of her movies, featuring a black female lead and streamed on Netflix, found success in Brazil. The movie likely wouldn’t have gotten the backing to be produced theatrically, and therefore wouldn’t have been seen by a Brazilian audience. Netflix gives creators of color and stories about characters of color the chance to not only be made but reach audiences around the world, offering many more opportunities for success.
One negative thing about streaming services like Netflix is that there is so much content to choose from that there is no guarantee a certain movie or tv show will reach a wide audience. Still, though, the doors streaming has opened for diversity cannot be denied.
What often happens if a movie is unsuccessful is people point to the minorities in it as the reason. If a movie flops and a woman was the lead, it is said that the female lead was the reason it flopped, when in reality there are many reasons for a movie to not land unrelated to gender or race. Then, when a movie is successful and has a diverse cast, it is often considered an isolated incident.
However, the cry for diversity is getting louder, and diverse voices in entertainment are currently in demand.
On-Demand Diversity? The Meanings of Racial Diversity in Netflix Productions
In 2013, when Netflix streamed the original series House of Cards, Hemlock Grove, Orange is the New Black, and Arrested Development, all four shows garnered critical acclaim and even 14 Emmy nominations between them. Since proving that its original content is worth watching, Netflix has been a cultural staple of television, and always staying at the cutting edge of what kinds of stories to produce.
Diversity in general is often approached in a shallow way, where companies will simply add non-white people into the picture and call it a day. That, however, does not change the white-dominated system very much at all. Companies want to appear diverse or antiracist without actually changing anything.
Diversity in media is important because media shapes our worldview. Media is integral to how people understand society and interact with other people.
It can be a slippery slope, and it’s debatable on how effective diversity is. Some literature theorizes that white people who watch black characters on TV will not actually change the way they view black people; rather, they will interpret the black character to reaffirm the racist or antiracist beliefs they already hold. In addition, entertainment companies can improve their image of diversity on a surface level by simply including non-white actors in their production while actually perpetuating harmful racial stereotypes. For example, in 2005, 80% of television characters in a given selection of shows were white, and of the 17% that were black or Latino, most of those characters were comic relief and were not fully realized.
Should Netflix really be lauded for racial diversity? Consider the first seasons of three of its early original shows: House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, and Hemlock Grove.
In these three shows, racial representation exists, but it’s not actually that good. In House of Cards, the few characters of color are seen as tokens, one of whom is played by an actress that doesn’t share the character’s race. In Orange is the New Black, there are many characters of color, but most are not integral to the plot and are also built on stereotypes. In Hemlock Grove, there are only a few characters of color, none of them main characters, and since it is a fantasy series and the world’s social constructs are different than our own, their race is not important at all.
While these shows may seem progressive because they feature more characters of color than network television might, quality might just outweigh quantity when it comes to diversity. When put under scrutiny, the diversity on these shows is not of very high quality.