TV outpaces Hollywood on diversity
Hollywood continues to be hit by a reaction to the lack of diversity in the Oscar nominations. And also in the film industry at large. But it doesn't have to look far for inspiration. Just turn on the TV.
Movies have lagged in diversity. But television has recently exploded with diversity. Now, the film industry will be playing catch-up to the small screen. Television is where some of the most talented people of color have turned. They are getting greater artistic freedom. TV gives them the chance to tell more mixed stories.
Many previous Oscar nominees are already there.
Ava DuVernay is the director of last year's best picture-nominee, "Selma." Now she is at work on "Queen Sugar." It is a drama series for Oprah Winfrey's OWN.
John Ridley is an Oscar-winning screenwriter. He wrote "12 Years a Slave." He is in the second season of his hit ABC series, "American Crime."
Forest Whitaker won best actor for 2006's "The Last King of Scotland." He is part of a "Roots" remake. It will run on A&E.
Two-time Oscar nominee Viola Davis is on Shonda Rhimes' "How to Get Away With Murder." It is on ABC.
"TV cares about its audience," says Davis. In September, she became the first African-American to win an Emmy for best actress in a drama. "TV wants to cater to the demographics of what is America."
Television is a faster, quicker medium than film. Movies regularly take years to make. Six major studios still largely hold power in Hollywood. It is also held by a handful of other large production companies. In television, there are more opportunities. TV includes cable and streaming networks. It is more open to riskier material.
The TV landscape was less diverse just a few years ago. For now it is flush with the likes of Lee Daniels' "Empire" and Aziz Ansari's "Master of None." And also Jill Soloway's "Transparent."
Studios now back fewer films to compete in media landscape that is growing more crowded. They focus on blockbusters. Those can sell tickets around the globe. It's a strategy that has been largely working. A record $11.1 billion was spent at the box office in 2015.
As a producer, Whitaker twice found rejection at the studios. That was before he raised money independently for 2013's "Fruitvale Station."
"We're taking a leap on stories that maybe somebody else says they just don't get," Whitaker said when releasing "Dope."
New streaming platforms have opened new chances for some filmmakers. One of those filmmakers is Spike Lee. He has said he won't attend the Oscars. The Oscars is the nickname for the Academy Awards. Lee recently found a home for his latest film. He made a deal with Amazon.
The child soldier drama "Beasts of No Nation" brought the much-praised but un-nominated performance by Idris Elba. The movie came from Netflix.
"We must do a better job of cultivating and recognizing diversity," said Chris Dodd. He is the chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America. "The film community is better served when a wider array of voices is celebrated."
In today's Hollywood, variety of any kind is hard to come by. Small and slow change is often measured in the makeup of franchises.
Two of 2015's most popular films were "Furious 7" and "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." They made more than $1 billion. Their casts came closer to reflecting American society and moviegoers than blockbusters of the past. After years of white superheroes, Marvel has enlisted Ryan Coogler to direct its "Black Panther" movie.
Darnel Hunt is head of UCLA's Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American studies. He warns against seeing actions of diversity as signs of deeper change.
"I don't think most of the public is aware of what goes on behind the scenes. And how exclusionary the business really is. Particularly if you see people of color on screen, which you do increasingly see on television," says Hunt. "But if you look behind the scenes, you don't see nearly as much diversity."
Hunt co-authors UCLA's annual Hollywood Diversity Report. The results have been pretty bad year after year. Minorities make up nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population. But, they get only 17 percent of the lead roles in films.
Ninety-four percent of Hollywood executives are white. They are almost all male. TV has made some strides in front of the camera. But its boardrooms and writers' rooms are still mostly white and male, too.
"We are light years away. The lack of nominations was, to me, almost a perfect reflection of what the industry looks like," says Hunt. "TV seems more open because they're making a lot more TV. So there are more opportunities for women and minorities. But not in the key decision-making positions."