Is #OscarsSoWhite Creating A Hiring Boom For Actors And Filmmakers Of Color In Hollywood?
Chris Rock may joke about the relevancy of both the Jada Pinkett-Smith Academy Awards boycott and the #OscarsSoWhite campaign, but according to an article in the Hollywood Reporter, at least one part of Hollywood is taking it seriously.
In a piece entitled “Hollywood’s Casting Blitz: It’s All About Diversity in the Wake of #OscarsSoWhite,” Rebecca Ford writes:
Since the Oscar nominations were announced Jan. 14, a slew of diverse stories and color-blind castings have gained momentum. Newly announced projects include the young Barack Obama movie Barry and Disney’s immigrant story Dr. Q. (Those come on the heels of the record-breaking $17.5 million Sundance deal for Nate Parker’s slave drama The Birth of a Nation).
“There’s definitely a big conversation taking place right now in our business,” says Management 360 partner Darin Friedman. “From both the filmmaker side and the buyer side, there’s a push for more diverse stories. It’s happening in a genuine way: an understanding that the cast or the directors who get hired should reflect the way the world looks.”
Plus, it pays to be inclusive. A Feb. 25 UCLA study revealed that films and TV shows that reflect the diversity of America on average draw higher ratings and the highest median global box-office receipts.
TV has been far more progressive than film when it comes to diverse stories and castings, but the latest pilot season reflects even higher demand with color-blind castings (like Persian-American actress Sarah Shahi as the star of CBS’ Nancy Drew series, Drew). And after the success of Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat, there are more family comedies in the works, including ABC’s The Fluffy Shop, based on the life of Hispanic comedian Gabriel Iglesias, and NBC’s Marlon, starring Marlon Wayans.
According to Ford, other colorful projects we can soon expect from Hollywood include a yet-to-be-named movie set during the 1967 Detroit riots that will be produced by the same team who brought us Zero Dark Thirty, as well as a biopic about the African-American women who helped NASA launch its first space mission. Octavia Spencer and Taraji P. Henson have both already signed on for the latter project, which will be called Hidden Figures. As the film’s producer told Ford, “’I was actively out there looking for this kind of material that serves the markets — specifically women and African-Americans — that I think nobody pays attention to in Hollywood,'” says producer Donna Gigliotti, who optioned Hidden Figures off a book by Margot Lee Shetterly. When Gigliotti began showing the script to agencies to find a director, she says they clamored to get it to their black actress clients.”
And the #OscarsSoWhite campaign appears to be having an effect on hiring practices behind the lens as well. As Ford reports, “Black filmmaker Ava DuVernay (Selma) has signed on for two big studio projects during recent weeks: Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time and Universal’s sci-fi film Intelligent Life, starring Lupita Nyong’o.”
Maybe there is hope for Hollywood. Maybe it has finally realized that people of color are not only marketable beyond their respective niche audiences but instrumental to box-office success. Or is it that folks are worried about being dragged to death on social media for producing yet another colorless tale?
Whatever the reason, I’m sure many people of color in Hollywood will be glad to work a lot more than they likely ever had before.