The entertainment industry is one fickle business. You have to learn the ins and outs of everything involved; how to network, where to go, how to act, the best way to get your foot in the door and so on. It can be overwhelming even for the strongest and most tenacious person. It’s no secret that Hollywood is in desperate need of diversity. I mean, when you cast white actors in roles that portray the stories of people of color, it’s undeniable that there is an issue with the way Tinseltown does things. That’s why I just can’t entertain the musings of those in the industry who are so far up the latter of success that they can’t seem to fathom the notion that people are frustrated.
Lee Daniels is the latest Hollywood heavyweight to lend his two cents on the subject of diversity, and his views are a hard pill to swallow; mostly because it’s an incomplete perspective. He recently told the New York Times,
“Go out and do the work… Oscars so white! So what? Do your work. Let your legacy speak and stop complaining, man. 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.”
For the record, I do not totally disagree with Daniels. As a writer, I understand the importance of creating content as well as writing it. In today’s world, with social media, it’s not enough to just be a screenwriter. You do have to “do the work” and carve out a space for yourself in order to get noticed. I get where he is coming from, but ultimately, I believe that he missed the mark with his comments. His statement dismisses the fact that there are actually some diversity issues in Hollywood that serve as challenges for people of color to get the same kind of opportunities. I am not just referring to black entertainers. From Asians to Hispanics, there just aren’t enough roles to go around and the ones that do exist aren’t given to the people who best fit them. Also, the ones that are available go to the most popular actors of color, making it even more difficult for newcomers. That’s why I appreciate people like Shonda Rhimes so much because with her it’s not about who is the biggest name but who is the biggest talent.
Daniels’ remarks are typical of people who have “made it.” They become out of touch with those of us who are still looking for our Precious come up. No one is looking for a handout or insisting that Hollywood owes people of color anything but the chance to compete on an equal playing field. We are not asking for preferential treatment or for a handout. What we are asking is to be heard, respected and acknowledged. It’s not acceptance as much as it is equality. That’s what all of this comes down to.
The truth of the matter is whiny people get things done. If it takes a hashtag to draw attention to an issue or to ruffle some feathers, then so be it. Last year, there were hardly any people of color nominated for awards at the Oscars and influencers like Jada Pinkett-Smith took it upon herself to voice her opinions about the situation. Her early morning video in January of 2016 inspired many as well as pissed others off. The nerve of her to be upset that talented black actors, including her husband Will Smith, didn’t get the honor due to them for the work they did. There is no way for us to affect change if we remain quiet. I wholeheartedly believe that because of the ruckus made by those fed up with the Hollywood system, there was a lot more diversity throughout the year. We are seeing the results of that in the first round of award season nominations. It was not a bad time for actors of color, and it can only get better.
When it comes down to it, people are working hard. People are out there making content that is good, relatable and worthy of some shine. It’s the system that has been in place for decades that’s debilitating. As more of the people with old, outdated and bigoted mindsets die off, it gives room for progressive thinking and thus, progressive action. We are working toward a more inclusive Hollywood, but we are by no means there. It’s disheartening that people like Lee Daniels can’t admit that and wholly puts the blame on people, pretty much, being lazy. Too many have a lofty outlook on those of us who voice frustration about the lack of representation, and that is not how it should be.
This “conversation” about diversity in Hollywood is ongoing, tough and necessary. Shame on the big wigs sitting comfy in their Beverly Hills mansions who belittle the struggle and earnest feelings of the people looking at the situation from the side of the lawn where the grass is in need of some watering.