Saturday Night Live mocked the diversity problem at this year’s upcoming Academy Awards show. In the skit, all of the nominees were white male actors in African-American themed films.
The sketch, titled “Screen Guild Awards,” poked fun at a far-reaching issue in Hollywood.
The lack of diversity in the film goes far beyond nominations at awards ceremonies; it filters down to the staffing practices throughout the industry. Talented African-American writers, directors, actors, and even film crews often struggle to find assignments.
The industry was built predominantly by wealthy, older, white males who cultivated a particular culture. But one of the biggest problems is networking. Often networking among film professionals, as is the case in many other industries, is segregated. For example, a Caucasian male who’s already embedded in a studio is likely to call his friend, another Caucasian male or female, and give them a heads up on an upcoming job or role.
The social dynamics makes it tough for new “less familiar” faces to get a break.
Some people do not consider diversity to be a real issue. After all, we can’t regulate with whom people choose to network or associate. However, I can speak from one personal experience.
When I was in my early 20s, I worked for a local cinema. Back in those days, we had actual film projectors, which required you to learn a unique set of skills like splicing, cutting, and wrapping film. One day I had a conversation with our general manager. He was a Caucasian man in his late 30s, and somehow we stumbled upon the topic of diversity.
He confided in me that some of the other theater managers that he knew within the industry would often only hire people with a “certain look,” meaning they would have mainly an all-Caucasian staff. He said that he told one manager that hiring a diverse group of people not only makes work more pleasurable, but it also provides customers with a better experience. I couldn’t have agreed more, as some of my fondest workplace memories stem from working at that slightly run down theater located inside of a strip mall.
The point is, he acknowledged that many people he knew who were in similar positions of power made a conscious or unconscious effort to surround themselves with people with whom they felt more comfortable and familiar. This form of “soft discrimination” takes place in other industries as well, and there is no simple solution to solving this problem.
But as SNL pointed out, in a funny way, ignoring or denying the problem is a sure fire way NOT to solve it.
Oh, and SPOILER ALERT, in the skit, the award for best actor went to “all the white guys.”