OP/ED: Hollywood, You Have a Diversity Problem


At the 67th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards last September, actress Viola Davis made a significant statement during her acceptance speech:

“The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”

After four months, this phrase still sticks with me for some reason. One of the reasons why I love the quote is because it relates to what is going on in the entertainment industry.

On Jan. 14, the Oscar nominations were announced, and once again, there were no POC (people of color) in the acting categories. You would think the Academy would have learned its lesson, when this happened last year, but I guess not. When I saw those nominations, I was not surprised because the Academy voters consist of 94 percent of senior white men around the age of 63.

As a woman of color who is interested in the entertainment industry, it does upset me when people of color, especially women, are not recognized for their work, while the same, mediocre people are nominated.

But here’s my real issue with Hollywood. Yes, we see more people of color on television and movies in today’s society than we did 50 years ago. When it comes to film, there have been plenty of Oscar winners who were people of color, but they were awarded for playing a stereotype, instead of breaking the mold. Actresses like Monique and Lupita Nyong’o won Oscars for playing an abusive mother and a slave. How about awarding us with roles that don’t define us?

This also goes back to the writers of film and television. Write roles for people of color that aren’t stereotypical. Write roles that relate to us personally. For God’s sake, get more writers who are people of color.

Now, someone needs to tell Stacey Dash, aka Miss Dionne, that getting rid of Black History Month, BET and the NAACP Awards doesn’t solve our problems. Ms. Dash, let me throw some knowledge on you. Black people have these award shows and this network because we are not represented enough in mainstream media. As a black woman like yourself, you should have some sense. I’m convinced this woman doesn’t love herself. This is the same woman who said that people who complain about equal pay are making excuses. Dionne, have several seats please.

When I see television shows like Black-ish, Empire, Fresh Off the Boat, and How to Get Away with Murder, I see some progress. For instance, when was the last time we had a black comedy on one of the big major networks? What I love about Black-ish is that it revolves around an upper middle class black family who live in the suburbs.

I love how refreshing and relatable the show is. How many Good Times knockoffs can we be subjected to?

This frustration is not just about a couple of Oscar nominations. It’s about the lack of diversity in Hollywood. I wish more white celebrities spoke up about this and actually did something about it. Many of them just use their mouth, but won’t do anything about it. Use your privilege for something useful.

Yes, the entertainment business is difficult, but it’s more of a struggle for minorities. We want our voices to be heard too. We want our stories to be told too, but in the right way. No, this isn’t a complaint. It’s frustration. Yes, we are all frustrated.  I’m still peeved how Selma only received two Oscar nominations last year.

Two. TWO. Seriously?

I’m tired of seeing the typical Asian sidekick, or the loud black woman. I’m tired of seeing people of color being used as “token” friends. If the writers of Black-ish can create characters who don’t fit the stereotype for black people, and still are have be successful on ABC, then other writers can follow the same example.

To go back to the Oscars, I know that Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee plan to boycott the ceremony this year. I agree with their frustration, but I feel that boycotting isn’t going to help. You can simply not watch the ceremony ever again, but boycotting doesn’t solve anything. What needs to be fixed is the Academy’s staff, that’s for starters. I think the only reason why I would watch it this year is because of Chris Rock. I really don’t care who’s nominated in the acting categories (sorry Leo). He is the host after all, and it was said that he’s reworking the format. Now, we know that he doesn’t hold anything back, so I’m curious about to what he has planned.

One feeling that saddens me is the attitude that I have for this issue- The not-surprising attitude that I have when it comes the Oscar nominations and the lack of minority writers we have. I really want to be optimistic, but I can’t. The history that people of color have in this country and the way we were treated in the past are still prominent in today’s society. How can I be optimistic? We are taking baby steps. This isn’t something that’s going to happen overnight. But I hope those baby steps can become bigger steps in the years to come.