Lee Daniels, creator of FOX's "Empire" and "Star," knows how to create compelling TV shows and movies that catapult actors, like Mo'Nique and Taraji P. Henson, to awards stages. Too bad he doesn't know that affording more of those opportunities to underrepresented communities is one of the goals of #OscarsSoWhite.
April Reign, managing editor of Broadway Black, created the hashtag in January 2015 after the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences failed to nominate a single actor or actress of color in their acting categories. #OscarsSoWhite is now a movement that pushes for "more stories to be told by and about traditionally underrepresented communities."
However, Daniels doesn't view it that way. The 57-year-old "Precious" director condemned the #OscarsSoWhite movement in a recent interview with The New York Times:
Oscars so white! So what? Do your work. Let your legacy speak and stop complaining, man. Are we really in this for the awards? If I had thought that way — that the world was against me — I wouldn't be here now. These whiny people that think we’re owed something are incomprehensible and reprehensible to me. I don't expect acknowledgment or acceptance from white America. I'm going to be me.
#OscarsSoWhite is not mindless complaining. It has been an effective push for inclusion, especially among the voting bodies who bestow awards on Hollywood's elite.
The 2017 Golden Globes is one example of how Hollywood has begun responding to the call for more quality stories about the experiences of marginalized communities. For instance, Tracee Ellis Ross won a Golden Globe for Best Actress In A TV Comedy or Musical for her role as Dr. Rainbow Johnson on ABC's "Black-ish." She's the first Black actress in 35 years to win that award.
Viola Davis also won a Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe for her role in "Fences." "Atlanta," Donald Glover's beloved FX series, also snagged two Golden Globes while the unparalleled movie, "Moonlight," won the biggest award of the night.
The Golden Globes also coincided with the nationwide release of "Hidden Figures," which took the top spot at the box office over "Rogue One."
Reign told Revelist that she's unsurprised about the success of "Hidden Figures."
"When quality stories are told, people will tune in," she said. "They will reward those stories with either their ratings on TV or their movie ticket dollars in the movie theater or on stage with their ticket purchases."
Daniels has argued that it's important for underrepresented creators, like Barry Bandry, "Moonlight's" director, to let their work lead to opportunities — but the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" rhetoric doesn't dismantle systemic exclusion.
"It takes more than mere bootstraps to gain the highest pinnacle within the industry, regardless of what industry it is," Reign told Revelist. "If that’s the case, Lee Daniels would have an Oscar. He doesn't. So, it has to be more than that."
A part of overcoming these obstacles is providing a plethora of opportunities for marginalized groups both in front of and behind the camera. That's what #OscarsSoWhite aims to do.
"OscarsSoWhite is all about opportunity, and providing more opportunities for people from marginalized communities to tell their stories," she said. "Once these people become involved in the industry, I would submit that they have a responsibility to pull along those behind them. And hold the door open for others because there clearly is enough room for everyone."
Hollywood has made incremental shifts to include quality stories about marginalized communities, but Reign argues that there's still more work to be done.
She's right. Researchers at the University of Southern California found that there's an "epidemic of invisibility" in Hollywood. They analyzed more than 21,000 characters and workers on TV shows and movies released between September 2014 and August 2015. They then divided their findings by race, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.
The results were damning: Over 87% of film directors, 90% of broadcast TV directors, and 83% of cable TV directors are white. It's equally as dismal as it relates to sexuality. Only 2% of all speaking characters across TV and film were lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Similarly, there were only seven transgender characters across the two mediums.
"The film industry still functions as a straight, white, boy's club," the study stated. That's the erasure Reign is combatting with #OscarsSoWhite:
Where are the films that reflect the Latino/Latina community? Why are we still, in 2017, without a rom-com focused on the LGBTIA community? Where are the disabled actors and actresses playing superheroes? Not Professor Xavier, who is played by Patrick Stewart and who is fantastic, but he is an able-bodied man playing a disabled superhero, but where are the disabled actors and actresses for those roles? There is still a lot to be done.