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  • Writer's pictureWhitney Dunlap-Fowler

How Hollywood Keeps Missing the Message

Updated: Sep 26, 2023

The uproar over this year’s Oscar nominees is everywhere. From highlighting the lack of female nominees to bringing attention to the lack of multicultural diversity of films and nominees, all of twitter was in an uproar with the over-representation of White men.

I on the other hand was more perplexed about the fact that there was really only one contender in the Black film arena to be nominated in the first place. More and more, it seems as though “Old Hollywood” is more resistant to ideals of change than cable networks.

Here’s the disconnect for me: I, like many other African Americans, have a story that I’ve never seen on screen. Contrary to popular stereotypical beliefs, I don’t have a highly religious background; I don’t personally know anyone like Madea; no one in my family is overly dramatic or vindictive; no one does drugs or is attached to the music industry (Empire, Hustle and Flow, Dream Girls). It seems as though just about every Black story has to be told through a lens of comedy (Top Five, The Wedding Ringer) or EXTREME historical tragedy and injustice (The Butler, 12 Years a Slave, Selma, The Help)? Even Anthony Mackie was recently quoted as stating that “People are just tired of being bombarded with race right now… “So everybody is shying away from certain topics and certain movies.”

What about those of us who are living regular, everyday lives just like everyone else? Do we not also travel (Grand Budapest Hotel), love (Silver Linings Play Book) go to war (American Sniper, Lone survivor), explore (Wild) raise children (Boyhood), play instruments (Whiplash), and participate in sports other than football and basketball (Fox Catcher)? Are African Americans not also inflicted with life tragedies outside of issues that deal with poverty such as Alzheimer disease (Still Alice) and cancer (My Sister’s Keeper, the Fault in Our Stars)?

Our story is a human story, not unlike those of others. It is the script of middle class young professionals whose parents may or may not have come from similar upbringing. It is the story of trying to figure out who we are, who we want to be, and most importantly who we aren’t by living life, making mistakes and learning from them. We comprise the makings of love stories, tragedies, comedies, dramas all in one: not just one or the other. We are multidimensional with layers of years and life, protagonists and antagonists with epic monologues to share. Mine is a story, just like anyone else’s that just so happens to occur with a Black main character.

But where are these narratives? Where are the directors for these films? Why is it that only one or two Black films can be produced at a time? More importantly. how are the fundamental pieces of these stories not highly relatable or universal?

The lack of funding or even consideration for people of color in Hollywood is a well-known and seemingly accepted part of the Hollywood framework. In contrast, outside of the big screen, network executives seem to have caught on to the idea that showing African Americans in diverse roles can prove to be particularly lucrative. ABC for example has had a dominating Thursday night line up with shows produced and directed by Shonda Ryhmes, shows which often feature integrated casts with African Americans of various socioeconomic backgrounds in leading roles. Lifetime has also increased their African American viewership with an influx of story lines with all Black casts with varying plots.

Two years ago, a 2013 Women in Media study conducted for Essence Magazine by Added-Value revealed a desire to see more variety in media and despite this, it seems that Hollywood hasn’t fully accepted the message that diversity is an integral part of US society and that African Americans are multifaceted beings who desire to see less stereotypical versions of themselves on screen.

Originally published on January 21, 2015.

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