Three years ago, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences revealed their nominees for the Oscars that year, which included twenty nominees in four different acting categories. Immediately after the nominees were announced, the Academy faced criticism on Twitter over the lack of diversity in their acting nominees that year: all twenty nominees were of Caucasian descent. The Oscar’s host for the ceremony that year, Chris Rock, directly addressed the issue on stage by saying: “If you want black nominees every year, you need to just have black categories.”
Rock is not completely wrong. But here’s the thing that I find interesting about that sentence and his entire monologue that year in particular: in addressing the issue of lack of diversity within the acting nominees, he made no mention of the lack of Asian nominees, the lack of Latino acting nominees, the lack of LGBTQ nominees, or the lack of actors with disabilities nominated. Rock’s entire monologue defined the lack of diversity as the lack of African American nominees. Is that what diversity is? Does solely acknowledging the lack of recognition for African American actors bring diversity to an otherwise white dominated industry. The answer to these questions, for me, is more complicated than one might think.
Though in recent years, the conversation centered around increased representation for African Americans in popular culture has led to some increased production of movies and TV shows with African American protagonists, much more progress needs to be made in order to achieve true inclusivity in the media. It continues to be rare to find actors of various minority groups consistently represented on screen and on stage, even in today’s world. And when I do find various minority groups represented in the media, it often portrays a stereotypical, two-dimensional representation of each race – i.e. a nerdy, kung fu fighting Asian, an African American slave, a gay person hated by his family, a Mexican drug dealer, etc etc. People don’t seem to address these issues or even care about them when talking about diversity in the entertainment industry.
In my opinion, addressing these issues represents where we need to go next in the fight towards increased diversity in the media. Not only do we need to address the lack of recognition and opportunities for minority groups, but we also need to address the narrowness of the narratives that minorities are given the chance to portray today. Rather than telling stories that are exclusive to one or two groups of people, we need to begin telling stories that will allow everyone to have an equal chance to be part of the narrative. It is time for us to begin making shows, movies, plays, and musicals that will not only bring select groups together, but bring all groups together.
Think about the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton,” which casts Asian, African American, Hispanic, Latino, as well as white actors in various roles in a story about the founding of the United States of America. Lin Manuel Miranda’s casting of actors of various backgrounds and ethnicities presents the kind of unity and the kind of true diversity that serves as a message of how America can and should be today. It allows everyone in the audience, regardless of race, gender or age, to be able to find a personal connection with the story of America’s beginning. In response to his casting decisions for the show, Miranda said that it’s a “story of America then, told by America now.” This message should be sent across the country and throughout the world as we consider the kinds of stories we want to tell through film, television, or theater.
As we head into a new era in history, it is time we expand our scope and understanding of diversity in media – to break down barriers and include everyone in the narrative, not just one or two specific groups of people. One day, I hope to see watch a movie, play, TV show, or musical that includes narratives of the many different minority groups – whites, black, Asian, Latino, LGBTQ – that make up our modern society.