At the dinner table a few weeks ago, my mom told me about a little known director named Colin Trevorrow, his only film experience a low-budget movie in the Sundance Film Festival. Steven Spielberg noticed his work, being reminded of himself as he met the young Trevorrow. Spielberg took him under his wing, and a few years later, Treverrow directed “Jurassic World.”
But would Spielberg have seen himself in and mentored a young female or a young black director? Sometimes I wonder how much race and gender play into luck and being in the right place at the right time.
For the 2016 Academy Awards, no actors of color have been nominated for an Oscar. Ninety-four percent of voters are white, and 76 percent are male. The lack of diversity in the nominations is not an insult against minority groups or women, but a reflection of the gender and ethnic gap in the film industry.
I believe that our favorite movies speak to who we are and what we think about ourselves. The feeling of connection and empathy towards film is moving and powerful, but it’s easier to relate to someone with goals and experiences similar to our own.
The average Academy Award voter is a 63-year-old white male. It’s no surprise that their cinematic taste differs from that of another age group, race, or gender. The problem isn’t that old white men don’t like the same movies as a young black kid, but that it’s a generally narrow audience that votes for the Academy Awards.
It’s easier said than done, but the clearest remedy for the situation is diversity. This means more casting opportunities for people of color, but not opportunities where racial adversity is the primary plot line. And please, no more of the ‘sassy black friend’ in every sitcom.
The fact is that a diverse environment makes for an interesting environment. I’ve heard people say they ‘wish they were black,’ so getting into college would be easier. But, while it may feel like schools and institutions are simply filling a quota or blindly abiding by affirmative action, when people come together from different cultural, religious and socio-economic backgrounds, we learn much more and much better from each other.
My mom is black and my dad is a Canadian Jew. I’ve had a bat mitzvah and a first communion. I celebrate Christmas, Hannukah, Easter, Passover, and Yom Kippur. I’ve had Christmas in Santa Monica and in Victorville. I’ve had News Year’s Eve along Central Park West and in Crenshaw. And for this, I am grateful. I’m grateful for being taught to keep an open mind, and I’m lucky to have the diversity in my life that gives me balance.
Film is the perfect setting for creativity, innovation and diversity. It’s a shame that many great films this year and in the past may have been overlooked because of a cultural disconnect. But at the same time, there’s nothing wrong or illegitimate about Trevorrow’s success. He earned it, as did all of the actors, directors and screenwriters recognized for their work this year.
I don’t think the diversity problem in the film industry will be solved quickly. I don’t even think this problem has a simple solution. But talking doesn’t hurt.
I’m not content with the situation, but it’s a good thing that it made the news. It’s a good thing that people are questioning what’s given and that we recognize there should be a change.