I Graded Hollywood on Diversity and It Didn’t Go Well

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This article originally appeared on Mudbound , Crown Heights , Marshall …. or not. Sure, I can look to the new year with a single bodied text of rambling about the goods and bads of the current year, but instead, I've chosen to do this like my damn teachers did it.

Hollywood’s film industry (TV, you’re a different beast), here are your grades.

Report Card
Name: Hollywood
Course: Diversity Fundamentals
Year: 2017

Explanation of marks:
4 - Exceeds Expectations
3 - Meets Expectations
2 - Progressing Toward Expectations
1 - No Improvement

Quality of work: 2

Hollywood shows initiative. Though, for Hollywood to have understood “diversity” this quarter, it would have to be able to do it without its cheat-sheet. The typical solemn Asian, happy black "brotha" with jokes, taxi-driving brown guy with the strong accent, flamboyantly queer and proud, kind of cheat-sheet. Historically, Hollywood’s been a little too reliant on its quotas-to-fill shtick, leading to some trash stereotypes. Thankfully, there’s been an improvement in this area thanks to the guidance of non-white and minority leads. Jordan Peele’s Get Out was crazily clever about a particular black man at a particular time. It never relied on the super joke-ey egregiously gory settings of horror. It simply took a regular black dude with a legitimate fear and told a story in a way that was unapologetically black in Hollywood.

Girls Trip by Michael D. Lee was another one of those shamelessly black films to remix something old to make it new. It was a movie that caressed its wig and pushed out a story about black sisterhood and self-care—a subject that Hollywood still needs to take a look at. Other quality titles with diverse casts and stories included The Big Sick, Lady Bird, Wonder, Wonder Woman, CoCo and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, among others.

Contrast that with a 2017 film like The Same Kinda Different Than Me: a film with the caucasity to feature Greg Kinnear with his silly-ass, I-have-a black-friend-ass Greg Kinner face. In it, he finds a oneness with Djimon Housou; the last unchained sage-brotha from the block. I’m not even going to go through the plot, just watch this.

Puts the material to practice: 2

Hollywood is imaginative and has a lot of ideas. But in stating all of that, we—by “we” I mean anyone that isn’t a white director/dude—are pressured to produce receipts, evidence, and a full-bodied resume in order to get the same nods as our white counterparts by award season. While white directors are allowed to tell the stories of their own worlds to others like “themselves”—see The Post, The Disaster Artist, or Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Non-white men are encouraged to be less raw to their own stories and less random-as-shit for an award nod. For them, stories must be dreamt up in a marriage of classical, interpretational, traditional style to dress-down what is authentically black or brown (ex. Moonlight, 2016).

Girls Trip was comedic genius, but told authentically; something it paid for by not being given so much as a viewing by the Golden Globes according to Jada Pinkett Smith; a statement that was since challenged by the HFPA through an email with me who reiterated that it was in fact screened on Jul 18th for members. Get Out was bold, but lacked the pretentious first-world-problems of the white human condition; hence the comedy viewpoint by studio executives—possibly at the risk of a directing/writing nomination. Then there’s Mudbound, a film that brings a palpable reminder to a period when black and white war veterans came back to an America that valued lives very differently; no mention of a Dee Rees (director) consideration here. In terms of the suits that make the decisions, unless you're a black woman, the full value of Girls Trip will be misunderstood. Unless you're a black man/woman, the full terror of Get Out will fall on deaf ears. Unless you're South Asian, the full dilemma of The Big Sick will be missed, and it goes on. Get these folks on your panels.

Sensitive to others feelings: 2

Hollywood shows a strong desire to improve itself. That said, for all intents and purposes, Hollywood needs to stop with the gentrification.

Hollywood shouldn’t encourage anymore samurai-looking-ass Matt Damon’s—The Great Wall—for the “mass appeal.” No more cyber-punk-ass Scarlett Johansson’s trying to be a Ghost in a Shell. No more Americanized Nat Wolff’s with Death Note. Hollywood needs to pull an Ed Skriene, and know when roles for the non-white folk ought to stay with non-white folk. Disney seems to have gotten the right idea for the most part with its future casting for the live action Aladdin; Mena Massoud (Aladdin) who is of Egyptian heritage. And, of course, the choices made with A Wrinkle In Time, which for a fantasy, is whitewash fodder. Point blank, the opportunism that comes with cultural staples should have nothing to do with the erasure of those that represent it. It just stinks. Stinks of the thief that displays the unwillingness to delve into the source material it borrows. No, let’s just transplant ideas into a look that goes down easy like a Starbucks latte.

Plays well with other classmates: 1

Hollywood shows a promise. But the concept of diversity is still a superficiality in their eyes—an aesthetic rather than something meaningful. True diversity is filling in the blind spots with you know, different life experiences or different perspectives. Take the lack of woman of color in notable leading roles as an example, a glaring deficiency in 2017. Predictive female award contending leads this year include: Margot Robbie for I, Tonya, Sally Hawkins for The Shape of the Water, Saoirse Ronan for Lady Bird, Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and Meryl Streep for The Post.

Let’s be real, if Hollywood were to seek a leading woman, and a chick named Scarlett or Jennifer with pale white skin and good hair just happened to have a clear schedule, chances are that the “un-tested” woman of color would never have a chance, if they were considered at all. Girls Trip, Kidnap, and Everything, Everything isn’t enough out of the 700 theatrical films to not look like anything but a trash optic for “progress.” The television industry has proven that the Taraji P. Hensons, Issa Raes, Kerry Washingtons, Viola Davises and Tracee Ellis Rosses of the world kill it economically, so what’s the problem? The color palette of the world is shifting, and folks don’t want their experiences blackfaced. Seeking out women of color in leads shouldn’t be such a bold concept in that reality.

Willing to share with others: 1

Hollywood shows initiative, but is showing signs of regression to the status quo. Last year, movie watchers were blessed with films by people of color like Ava DuVernay's 13th, Denzel Washington with Fences, Barry Jenkins for Moonlight, Raoul Peck for I Am Not Your Negro, and Ezra Edelman for OJ: Made in America. Despite that, it was representative of the small directorial percentage that came across the top 1,000 grossing films with 5.6 percent of films (most of which were mentioned above) being lead by a person of color. Compare that to the four or so notable and directed films that were black-led in 2017.

If you don’t know, the film was a drama about the fictional Algiers Motel Incident, involving the beatings and deaths of three black men by police officers in 1967. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, an Oscar-winning white woman, Detroit was a decidedly a black tragedy told with a white comprehension. We’re talking about pre-Mike Brown sentiments. The included white savior components, the sympathetic-white-cop spin that would make any person of color feel a type of way; the film is a psychological cavity into the depths of police brutality; but lacks the sensitivity by someone that likens black death to torture porn visually. People of color who bring their experiences and a subtle awarenesses with them. It’s worth noting the Detroit did bomb, earning only $21 million, on a budget of an estimated $40 million.

Grade 40% / F

Recommended:

Hollywood can do the following in 2018 to support itself in its learning. Push the hell out of Black Panther in all its blackity blackness. Push the hell out of anything by Jordan Peele (Black Klansman). Recognize what fantasy can look like from a black woman (Ava DuVernay, Wrinkle in Time), just give Berry Jenkin’s his next award already for If Beale Street Could Talk. And please, add the folks with an invitation to a cookout to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association already.

Follow Noel Ransome on Twitter.

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#ghost in the shell
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#girls trip
#diversity