Activists have been trying for years to make Hollywood more inclusive. Recent evidence points to success.
At the April 25 Oscars, Chloe Zhao won the director trophy for “Nomadland,” the second woman to win and the eighth time in nine years that the director trophy has not been awarded to a white male.
For 2018 films, three of the four acting winners were POC: Rami Malek, Mahershala Ali and Regina King. The following year, the Asians won four Oscar categories, including Best Picture, with “Parasite” in Korean.
But will it last? One theory says that progress is linear, that once we take a step forward, we will never step back. Another theory says that progress is cyclical. Using Oscar as a gauge, Hollywood is now much better at representing the world’s population. And building on that success is so important that backing down is not an option.
Hollywood is much better now at representing the world’s population. But it could be cyclical.
Signs of inclusion in the 2021 Oscar contenders include several films centered on black protags, such as “Bruised,” “The Harder They Fall,” “King Richard,” “Passing” and “Respect.”
Latinos/Hispanics are represented in “Being the Ricardos”, “Jockey”, “No Time to Die” (via scene stealer Ana de Armas), “Parallel Mothers”, and “West Side Story”. “CODA” puts deaf protagonists center stage. LGBT characters are central to films such as ‘Benedetta’, ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’, ‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye’, ‘The Power of the Dog’ and ‘Swan Song’ (Todd Stephens’ film starring Udo Kier ).
Mission accomplished? May be.
On June 29, 2015, Variety printed a report on marriage equality and the Supreme Court. In an interview, RuPaul warned, “Everything is cyclical. These opening windows are literally that: they open and close. Back in the disco days, we were like, ‘Oh my God, this is awesome; we’ll be like this forever!’ Think again. It stopped so fast that people’s heads were spinning.
Hollywood history is filled with watershed moments followed by a regression into past habits.
Past milestones include Harold Russell in 1946’s “The Best Years of Our Lives.” Forty years later, Marlee Matlin – a contestant this year for “CODA” – made her film debut in “Children of a Lesser God.” “. Both have won Oscars. Since Hollywood likes to imitate success, where were the rehearsals of those victories?
While it’s taken a while for any meaningful following, in recent years Hollywood has seen success when Asian, Black, Latina, disabled and other formerly marginalized people create and star in productions, like the deaf actors Millicent Simmonds and Lauren Ridloff, who starred in “A Quiet Place” and “Eternals,” respectively.
Here’s a brief look at Hollywood’s one step forward/one step back history.
In the “Our Gang” shorts, 1922-44, the group of children included blacks and whites, years before Sidney Poitier made his impact in Hollywood.
The 1969 Best Picture winner “Midnight Cowboy” covered a wide range of sexuality and gender. “Little Big Man” (1970) featured Robert Little Star, playing Little Horse, a Cheyenne tribesman who was two-spirited/trans (and thus considered on a higher plane for having both genders).
The factual “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975) is about a man (Al Pacino) who robs a bank to pay for his lover’s sex-change surgery; 1992’s “The Crying Game” centers on a fluid romance between the sexes.
And now there are brilliant designers who will make sure the business never backs down. All of these movies made an impact, but none of them started a trend. If you find these stories inspiring, so much the better.
But if you find them daunting, remember the words of Ava DuVernay. In November 2018 Variety interview on criminal justice reform, she said: “To be hopeless is to ignore history. If you have a sense of hopelessness now, then my God, you need to flex your emotional muscles! … It’s not the worst we’ve seen, even in our lifetime.
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