Guest Host: Cecilia Kang

"Creed" actor Sylvester Stallone (right) said he considered skipping the Academy Awards, even though he's nominated, because the film's lead actor Michael B. Jordan (left) and director Ryan Coogler were snubbed.

"Creed" actor Sylvester Stallone (right) said he considered skipping the Academy Awards, even though he's nominated, because the film's lead actor Michael B. Jordan (left) and director Ryan Coogler were snubbed.

This year’s Oscars flap over the whiteness of the acting nominees has Hollywood buzzing about its “diversity problem.” The spotlight first fell on the Academy, a group whose demographics have been woefully out of step with the American public. Yet the conversation quickly moved on to what many call the real problem – films starring people of color aren’t getting made in the first place. With minorities now making up 38% of the U.S. population, and an even higher percentage of the movie-going public, some say the industry ignores diversity at its own peril.

Guests

  • Michele Norris Former host and special correspondent for NPR. She leads the "Race Card Project" and is the author of "The Grace of Silence."
  • Matthew Belloni Executive editor, Hollywood Reporter
  • Darnell Hunt Director of Ralph Bunche Center for African-American Studies, UCLA

Transcript

  • 11:06:55

    MS. CECILIA KANGThanks for joining us. I'm Cecilia Kang of the New York Times sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's away on a book tour. Last year, not one person of color was nominated in the acting categories at the Academy Awards. The Twittersphere lit up with #Oscarsowhite. When the same thing happened again this year, the hashtag became #Ostarstillsowhite, but this time the conversation became much larger with Hollywood's biggest stars, studio executives and civil right groups around the country weighing in.

  • 11:07:27

    MS. CECILIA KANGJoining us to talk about race in Hollywood, Michele Norris of The Race Card Project and from an NPR studio in Culver City, California, Darnell Hunt of UCLA and Matthew Belloni of The Hollywood Reporter. Thank you for joining us.

  • 11:07:44

    MS. MICHELE NORRISGood to be with you.

  • 11:07:45

    MR. MATTHEW BELLONIThank you.

  • 11:07:47

    KANGWe'll be taking your comments, questions throughout the hour. Call us at 800-433-8850. Send us your email at drshow@wamu.org and please join us on Facebook or Twitter. Matt, please bring us up to speed with the Oscars nominations and how they were received.

  • 11:08:08

    BELLONIWell, the big difference this year is that after there were zero non white acting nominees, the Academy actually did something about it. Within about two weeks of the nominations being announced, there were secret meetings. There was a proclamation from the board of governors and there were significant changes made to how the Oscar voting body is going to be comprised, specifically, there's an effort now to, for lack of a better word, purge the voting rights of some of the more senior members of the Academy that the perception is are a little bit out of touch with the rest of the voting body.

  • 11:08:51

    BELLONIAnd there's a concerted effort to diversify the ranks, both in adding to the board of governors, some specific new members who will be diverse and doing outreach around the world to bring in more non white members of the Academy, a group that has been traditionally overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly male.

  • 11:09:15

    KANGAnd just to bring us back to the basic, there were no actors of color in either lead or supporting roles that were nominated. Is that right? And this was the second year in a row.

  • 11:09:24

    BELLONIThat's correct.

  • 11:09:24

    KANGAnd this hasn't happened since the mid '90s. Is that right?

  • 11:09:28

    BELLONIYeah. There have been varying degrees. I mean, it depends what you'd count as a person of color, but yes. And after years, you know, in 2002, you had Halle Berry and Denzel Washington both winning and, you know, it seemed like the Academy was kind of coming around after years and years of neglect on this issue. But the past two years, every nominee in the acting categories, all 20 of them have been white.

  • 11:09:53

    KANGSo we've heard, as you just say, that the Academy itself has announced some measures to try to improve itself, if you will. Will Smith, Jada Pinkett and Spike Lee all said they will not attend the award show. Darnell, what was your reaction and do you think that these actions by the Academy and the greater tension and the vocal protest by some actors and people in the industry will change things? Will it really move the needle?

  • 11:10:20

    MR. DARNELL HUNTWell, I mean, you know, in many ways, I wasn't surprised by the lack of diversity in the nominations this year. Of course, we saw it last year. It's actually the aberrant year when the nominations are diverse. A couple of years ago, people referred to it as the year of the black film because we had "12 Years A Slave," we had "The Butler," and all these films come out at the same time, which is somewhat unusual. The thing we have to keep in mind is that the Academy is a largely white and male organization and we're talking 93 percent white, 76 percent male, average age 63.

  • 11:10:52

    MR. DARNELL HUNTSo there's a particular culture there that values certain types of films and those are typically not the films that are usually diverse. So that's the basic problem and the Academy, of course, kind of mirrors the industry. The industry, if you look at the very top, the people who are making decisions, deciding what to green-light with what type of budget, those people largely look like the people in the Academy so it becomes this echo chamber in terms of, you know, what's considered Oscar-worthy and it's the unusual diverse film that breaks through that process.

  • 11:11:24

    MR. DARNELL HUNTAnd so I think the Academy is moving in the right direction. It remains to be seen what impact this will actually have because I don't know what the age structure is. I know what the average age is, but if they, you know, say take away voting rights from members who haven't been active in X number of years, I mean, what will that do to the actual voting membership. For the last few years, they've been trying to increase the number of new member coming into the Academy. We're talking about 6400 or so hundred members and all of the various nominations are determined by section.

  • 11:11:53

    MR. DARNELL HUNTAnd the acting section is the largest section. And the issue has been the new members coming in haven't diversified the body quickly enough to have it register anything that looks like America. And it still remains to be seen how quickly these changes will have effect, but it is a move in the right direction.

  • 11:12:09

    KANGYou know, you said that the Academy largely reflects the industry and you're referring, of course, to the studios, the Hollywood studios. There's just a handful of them. Spike Lee, at the Governor's Award, recently said, "when I go to studio offices, I see no black folks, except for the security guard. It's easier to be president of the United States as a black person than to be head of a studio." Michele, what are your thoughts about that?

  • 11:12:33

    NORRISWell, you know, it's interesting that he makes the point about what happens at the top of the studio heads and what happens in terms of top leadership. I think in order to diversity the voting body, we have to look not just at leadership, but look below the line and look at cinematographers and look at lighting directors and look at all the various positions. Those 6,000 members of the board are not just directors and actors. There are a lot of -- there's a big, huge machinery that puts a film together and I think of something that director Steve McQueen said when he was talking about the films that he made earlier in his career, "Hunger" and "Shame."

  • 11:13:11

    NORRISHe said when he visited the sets, the set looked like 1976 Johannesburg because there were no blacks, no Latinos, no Asians. And that's a director saying that. And so, you know, to follow what Darnell says in terms of the speed at which change happens, one of the things that can happen is that people demand diversity on a movie set, that a director takes a role and says I want to make sure that there are diverse cast members, but also diverse people behind the camera working in the trades.

  • 11:13:37

    KANGMichele, were there actually snubs, you think, this year? Tell us a bit about the films that did come out that could've been nominated.

  • 11:13:45

    NORRISWell, you mentioned the Twittersphere and how it lit up. Idris Elba, who is always on the Twittersphere there, he has a very vocal following and people really love Idris Elba and I think that that was seen as one of the possible snubs. But the other thing that I think really upset people is there were films that had largely black casts that had black storylines and the nominations that flowed from those films did not touch black actors or the directors or the producers that were involved in those films.

  • 11:14:17

    NORRISAnd the two examples would be, "Straight Outta Compton" and "Creed."

  • 11:14:20

    HUNTYeah, I mean, the interesting thing about the awards race this year is, you know, the way it works is the studios tee up the films that they believe are "awards worthy" and they push them. And this year, there were several films that got legitimate awards pushes from their respective studio. You mentioned the Idris Elba film, "Beasts Of No Nation," which Netflix spent millions of dollars promoting for awards and it got zero nominations. "Straight Outta Compton," which Universal also spend millions of dollars promoting got nominations for its white screenwriters, but not for any members of its African American cast or a Best Picture nomination, which many people thought it would.

  • 11:15:02

    HUNT"Creed," which many people thought could slip in as a Best Picture or get Michael B. Jordan, the star, a nomination, it instead got a nomination for Sylvester Stallone, the white costar...

  • 11:15:14

    KANGRight, the white actor, um-hum.

  • 11:15:15

    HUNT...of that movie, right. So there are a number -- you know, Will Smith got a big push for his performance in "Concussion" and that film was shut out. So this year, there were legitimate candidates that were getting a traditional studio push with millions of dollars behind them, and they still got nothing.

  • 11:15:32

    KANGSo it wasn't for a lack of campaigning.

  • 11:15:33

    NORRISAnd I would add Ryan Kugler to that list also, the director.

  • 11:15:37

    HUNTYeah, the director, exactly.

  • 11:15:38

    KANGThe director of that as well. So there wasn't lack of campaigning around these films. Let's hear a little bit from "Beasts Of No Nation."

  • 11:16:15

    KANGThat was the voice of Idris Elba. In the film, he played a warlord and this was when he was coming upon a young orphan. Michele, should we care that the Oscars are so white, as said in the Twittersphere?

  • 11:16:31

    NORRISWell, absolutely, you should care. I mean, and you will care to varying degrees if you are in the industry or if you are a filmgoer. I mean, you could say that this is just entertainment, but the industry holds a mirror up to society in interesting ways. It plays a very interesting role in society in putting a spotlight on issues that are important, in moving discussions and we should care about this. And it's demonstrated that we should care about this because the industry itself cares about this.

  • 11:17:03

    NORRISThey took this very seriously this year. They moved quickly. The CEO of the Academy who came from the body that hands out the Independent Spirit Awards, you can look at her body of work there and see the changes she made there and with some expectation of what we will probably see at the Academy. I was surprised at how quickly they've been able to move on this in making some decisions that normally would take months to move this by committee and make sure that everybody signed off and doing things that they know are really going to upset the members of the Academy.

  • 11:17:37

    NORRISTo strip people of voting rights is no small thing.

  • 11:17:41

    BELLONIAnd can I add, actually, that, you know, when we ask why this matters, I mean, I'm a sociologist and one thing we know about media is that media we see day in and day out tend to normalize certain types of relations.

  • 11:17:52

    KANGAbsolutely.

  • 11:17:52

    BELLONISo when people of color are missing or when they're underutilized, we start to, you know, kind of present the idea that they're not as important in society and that maybe only the stories, only the challenges and triumphs of white men really matter. So we have a gender issue as well. I mean, it's not just race.

  • 11:18:10

    KANGComing up, more of our conversation on diversity in Hollywood.

  • 11:20:02

    KANGWelcome back. I'm Cecilia Kang with The New York Times sitting in for Diane Rehm. I'm joined by Michele Norris, who is the former anchor of NPR's "All Things Considered," the founder of the "Race Card Project" and author of "The Grace of Silence," a family memoir. Via NPR West, a studio in Culver City, Calif., is Matthew Belloni of the Hollywood Reporter. He is the executive editor there. And Darnell Hunt, the director of UCLA's Ralph Bunche Center for African-American and author of the Annual Hollywood Diversity Report. We should note that your report -- and update of that report will be released next week. Is that right, Darnell?

  • 11:20:43

    HUNTA week from today, February 25.

  • 11:20:44

    KANGOh, okay. Actually, let's get to the numbers there, Darnell. For the last three years, you have analyzed the top-200 grossing films to see how diverse Hollywood really is. How reflective are the Oscars and what's going on more broadly in Hollywood?

  • 11:21:00

    HUNTWell, I mean, yeah, I think the Academy mirrors the power structure, I guess, of the industry, the people who are making decisions, which is reflected in the types of films that are made. So if we look at film, we see that minorities and women are underrepresented pretty much in every arena, among film leaders, greater than 2 to 1 for minorities. And I should note that our study is always about a year behind because we have to wait for a year to end before we can collect data. So I'm giving you 2013 data right now. Our new study is going to have 2014 data. So there is a bit of a lag. And things are changing.

  • 11:21:33

    HUNTBut what we're trying to do is track, over time, the magnitude of the changes and whether or not there actually are changes or whether we're just treading water.

  • 11:21:39

    KANGMm-hmm.

  • 11:21:40

    HUNTIf you look at film directors, minorities are underrepresented by a factor of 2 to 1, 3 to 1 among writers. You know, the numbers are very similar in television -- a little bit better but not much better. And certainly, behind the scenes is where we see most of the work that needs to be done.

  • 11:21:57

    KANGMatt, though the box office tells a different story -- at least it should motivate differently, is that right? We are seeing the numbers low as far as representation in casting, as well as behind the camera and at the very top of the studio. But people come out to see films that have diverse casts, is that not right?

  • 11:22:16

    BELLONIThat is increasingly true. And, you know, over the past few years, you've seen several major Hollywood franchised films that are diverse. The "Fast and Furious" franchise is one of them. We saw the "Star Wars" franchise with a black lead and a female lead on the latest installment. You see films like the "Ride Along" franchise with Kevin Hart and Ice Cube. "Straight Outta Compton did about $200 million worldwide. These are films that are grossing significant amounts of money for studios. And ultimately, studios are in the money-making business. And the more these films do better at the box office, the more incentivized studios are to cast in a diverse manner.

  • 11:23:01

    HUNTYou know, one of the things we're actually looking at in our report is the relationship, you know, the quantitative relationship between the bottom line and diversity. And, again, three years running, we keep finding this relationship -- films that roughly reflect American society in terms of diversity, on average, do the best at the box office. And the same is true in television with ratings. This year we're actually going to have data on audience composition for films. So we'll be able to talk about what portion of the top-grossing films were supported by people of color.

  • 11:23:29

    BELLONIAnd if you look actually at the numbers -- go ahead.

  • 11:23:32

    KANGNo, one point that I was going to make about the films that both of you mentioned, "Ride Along," "Fast and Furious," one important thing about those films is that they do very well in the U.S. but they also do significantly well overseas.

  • 11:23:42

    HUNTAbsolutely. Absolutely.

  • 11:23:43

    NORRISThat's right.

  • 11:23:43

    KANGAnd that is very important. Because such a large percentage of the gross of those films, the money is made in the overseas market. And because they do well overseas, it means there more incentivized to make those films too.

  • 11:23:54

    HUNTRight. We look at global box office numbers in our studies. So that's absolutely correct.

  • 11:23:58

    BELLONIAnd one of the tropes that has always been a crutch that people lean on when they say, oh, we can't make diverse casting decisions, is this belief that studios have had that film's starring African Americans or other minorities don't perform as well overseas. And, you know, while that may have been true in the past, I think increasingly audiences are embracing diverse casts around the world. And something like "Furious 7," which had a very diverse cast, grossed $1.5 billion worldwide and was one of the biggest films of 2015. So in the right movie, I think colorblind casting can be just as lucrative.

  • 11:24:39

    KANGDo you think that that trope still exists, Matt? That, at the studio, the heads of the studios are still reluctant to cast diversely within their movies because they're afraid that 70 percent of the revenue which is now overseas is not going to -- that those audiences are not going to respond to a diverse cast? Does that still exist?

  • 11:24:57

    BELLONII think it's a conversation that people do still have and you hear it pop up. I think it's being challenged more and more. If you look at a film like "Straight Outta Compton," that film did very well in the U.S. and it did very well in markets where N.W.A., which it was based on, was a well-known thing. In markets where people didn't know what N.W.A. was, it did a zero.

  • 11:25:22

    KANGMm-hmm.

  • 11:25:23

    BELLONISo there is a, you know, you have to be familiar with rap music in order to understand why that movie is important according to the numbers. So there -- it is the conversation that I think people have. But when you look, you know, every single example you give of movies that are diverse helps the argument. And if you look at actually the numbers in the U.S. -- I don't know about overseas -- but African Americans and Latinos over-index in the numbers that they go to the cinema, compared to their representation in the population. So that means that Latinos -- I forget what the exact number is -- but it's, you know, 10 to 15 percent of Latinos more than they are in the population go to films.

  • 11:26:05

    HUNTYeah. Yeah. One of the things our new study is going to show is that if you look at the top ten films in terms of box office, you're going to see a huge chunk of the tickets are bought by people of color. And Latinos, in particular are heavy movie goers.

  • 11:26:17

    NORRISYou know, and I -- if I...

  • 11:26:19

    KANGMichele.

  • 11:26:19

    NORRISAnd if I can just add, that's important because last year when this happened and the Oscars were, in the top 20 categories were entirely white, one of the responses was, well, the number of Oscars that have been awarded to people of color generally falls in line, over time, with the percentage of the population. And you can make that argument. But if you actually look at the box-office records and the over-indexing, it just, you know, it cuts away at that. And so it's really important. It's a really important point.

  • 11:26:46

    KANGThere seems to be a numbers game a little bit here, though, as well. Darnell, wouldn't you agree? That studios are actually making fewer films in general. They're really focused on the franchises, the tent poles. They're putting a lot of their money into fewer bets but bigger bets, if you will. Talk about how that influences the decision making on casting and putting people of color behind the camera and in charge.

  • 11:27:07

    HUNTSure. Well, my theory is this. I mean, again, and this is -- I'm talking about American society more broadly. One of the things we know historically is that when there's more competition in any market, any arena, those who have power tend to consolidate their resource and it makes it harder for people who are already marginalized. So for people of color and women, when the economy goes south, typically they bear a lot of the brunt in terms of unemployment and other things. You know, last-hired, first-fired type syndrome.

  • 11:27:36

    HUNTWell, I think it's similar in Hollywood when you're making fewer films. And one of the things our study is showing is that the Great Recession was kind of a turning point. The industry is making a lot less major studio films now than it made prior to the Great Recession. There was a slight uptick last year from the previous year. But still, we aren't back to where we were. By contrast, TV is having something of a renaissance.

  • 11:27:56

    NORRISYes. Yes. Big contrast.

  • 11:27:56

    HUNTYou know, all of the broadcast networks -- everyone is in to original programming and they have to fill the space. And so there are relatively more opportunities to try something different or to do something different. Whereas, Hollywood, unfortunately, is stuck into this business-as-usual mode that has made it really difficult for people of color or women to get an opportunity.

  • 11:28:14

    BELLONIAnd one thing to add here is that, you know, it's a difficult job green-lighting movies. And in many cases, you are -- when you say yes, you're saying yes to giving someone $100 million, $150 million and saying, okay, we trust you to go off and make this movie. And what studio executives are thinking is, they want a track record. They want someone who has either proven themselves or has, you know, someone's vouching for them as someone who can handle a $150 million budget. And you just need the credits.

  • 11:28:50

    BELLONIYou need to have something to go into a studio and say, I've done this before. Or this person will vouch for me. And in many instances, minority directors or writers who have not had as many opportunities to do the smaller films, are not getting that chance to step up into the bigger films.

  • 11:29:08

    HUNTAnd that's the Catch 22.

  • 11:29:09

    KANGWell, green-lighting is difficult. Although the casting decisions have been really suspect. And director Ridley Scott experienced a lot of criticism for casting mostly white actors in "Exodus, Gods of Kings." And he said, I can't mount a film on this budget and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such. I'm just not going to get financed. Michele, what is your response to that?

  • 11:29:33

    NORRISWell, you know, I'm a big fan of Ridley Scott, have been since, you know, for a very, very, very long time, since "Blade Runner." So going way back. But it was an unfortunate statement. You know, there are many choices that he could have made. And we talk about colorblind casting, I think what we need to call for is color-brave casting and that some of these directors have to be willing to push back against the system and look for actors who can deliver and give them the chance to actually make their case and make a career for themselves.

  • 11:30:08

    NORRISAnd I look at not just, you know, the big-budget films. I mean, if you look at the films that have been nominated this year, there are films like "Trumbo," excellent film. There are films like "Brooklyn," excellent film. I look at "Brooklyn," which is basically a migration story, and I wonder, is it possible that a "Brooklyn" could ever be made about someone who was coming, say, from Alabama or Mississippi and moving North in America, which was another migration story. It's basically a love story that is built around subtlety and character and a sense of place. And Ireland is as much a character in that film as any of the actors.

  • 11:30:43

    NORRISBut I wonder if someone would be brave enough to make a film like that with actors of color, that looked at communities of color, that really told a story. The kinds of stories that...

  • 11:30:52

    KANGThat have universal story lines.

  • 11:30:54

    NORRISYes. And that is -- a love story is a universal story in every sense. But we just don't see that. So I think what we need to call for is color-brave casting.

  • 11:31:03

    KANGWell, you know, you say brave. But we just talked about how the box office itself is saying something very different, which is that people do turn out for movies with diverse casts, with people in color who are on the screen. So does it really take bravery? Or does it just take waving of spreadsheet in front of the studio bosses and say, look, there are numbers that support this? Darnell.

  • 11:31:25

    HUNTIf it were only that simple. Well, you know, when we started this project, the Hollywood Diversity Report project three years ago, that was exactly the goal, was to change the discourse and to debunk some of these myths. Like, you know, films that have people of color leads don't travel overseas, et cetera, et cetera. And there are so many examples that, you know, dispel the myth. But, you know, we wanted to be more systematic. So we look at every single top, you know, 200 film. We look at all of the TV shows. And it's all about the numbers.

  • 11:31:50

    HUNTAnd we went directly to the industry for support of the project because we figured, well, they'll read the report. They'll see the numbers. And we can hopefully start to change the internal conversations.

  • 11:31:59

    KANGMm-hmm.

  • 11:32:00

    HUNTAnd I think we're seeing some shift in the discussion. I mean, we're not there yet. We're far from being there. But people are talking about things that you just wouldn't have heard three or four years ago.

  • 11:32:10

    BELLONII think there's been a lot of change.

  • 11:32:11

    HUNTYeah.

  • 11:32:11

    BELLONII mean, a lot of change in talk.

  • 11:32:13

    HUNTYeah.

  • 11:32:13

    BELLONII don't know how...

  • 11:32:14

    HUNTHow much in practice.

  • 11:32:14

    BELLONI…in practice. But you have seen...

  • 11:32:16

    HUNTRight. Yeah.

  • 11:32:16

    BELLONI...I mean, even in the past two weeks we've seen, you know, Idris Elba was just cast in a movie based on a book where the lead character was white. You're seeing Fox making a movie starring Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer, two African-American actresses, in the leads. And you are seeing efforts being made, I believe. And, you know, these Hollywood -- these studio heads are not racist in my opinion. There's no concerted effort to keep certain people out of starring roles. I don't believe that. Most executives in Hollywood consider themselves progressive.

  • 11:32:48

    KANGMm-hmm.

  • 11:32:49

    BELLONIAnd they want to do the right thing. It's just that, when you're in this position, you tend to fall back on what has worked in the past.

  • 11:32:56

    HUNTRight.

  • 11:32:57

    BELLONIAnd there is a formula for, you know, if you are casting the new "Jurassic Park" movie, you are looking at that hot, up-and-coming actor and the one who could potentially crossover. And that, in the studio head's mind is Chris Pratt. It's not necessarily Michael B. Jordan. But that is changing. I mean, "Creed" did very well at the box office. And, you know, Michael B. Jordan is going to have opportunities to do those kinds of movies.

  • 11:33:21

    KANGI'm Cecilia Kang with The New York Times. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." If you'd like to join us, call 1-800-433-8850. Or send an email to drshow@wamu.org. Find us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Matt, that was interesting that you brought up sort of this glimmer of hope when you mentioned Idris Elba. At the same time, wasn't there just discussions though recently about whether he could potentially be James Bond and whether there could be a black James Bond? So it feels like all this is happening at once. There are glimmers of hope in the box office. There's glimmers of hope in we see casting decisions.

  • 11:33:58

    KANGThen you feel like you're stepping far -- three, four, five steps backwards with what happened with the Oscars this year. Michele.

  • 11:34:05

    NORRISWell, that's kind of life. You know, that's, I mean, that -- you win some, you lose some, but you keep at it.

  • 11:34:10

    HUNTYeah.

  • 11:34:11

    NORRISAnd, you know, when you were talking about studio heads, you know, it seems like we should shine a light on those who are looking at creative ways or have sort of a creative strategy...

  • 11:34:20

    KANGOh, give us some examples.

  • 11:34:21

    NORRIS...for a movie. Well, I mean, I -- when you were talking about directors, I was thinking about, you know, reaching back some degree. But John Sayles, for instance, would make a film that he knew would be commercially successful. But then he would take the capital that he built from that -- both the actual capital and the capital that he built in Hollywood -- to do a film that would be harder to do without that kind of capital. And often those films were diverse and they were interesting and they were the kind of films that would not easily capture the attention of a studio head.

  • 11:34:50

    NORRISAnother example is actually from television, but Ryan Murphy, who produces "Scream Queens," and "American Crime Story," and "American Horror Story," just said that he's pledged to make sure that 50 percent of his crews are people of color or members of the LGBT community. That's, you know, that's big, when you do that. Now, we'll see if it's easy for him to follow through on that. But to make that kind of declaration and say, I'm going to, you know, he calls his -- he calls it a half project.

  • 11:35:15

    KANGMm-hmm.

  • 11:35:15

    NORRISAnd if he's able to follow through on that and he gets attention for that, that's the kind of pioneering that slowly could start to make a difference in the industry.

  • 11:35:24

    KANGWhat is happening in TV? We're seeing -- it seems like such a contrast when you see so much diversity and new shows that are coming up. And then the advent or really the rise of streaming. There's a lot of money coming in to new shows and new feature films, actually, from Netflix and Amazon. Why is there a difference, Matt? Can you talk a little bit about that?

  • 11:35:45

    BELLONIIt's just volume. It's opportunity. And it's track record. You look at the number one show on broadcast television in the 18 - 49 demo right now and it's "Empire." "Empire" is a nearly entirely African-American cast, African-American co-creator. And it's a black story. And it's resonating in a major way. And, you know, these studios and networks are not -- they're not ideologically driven, they are money driven and they are audience driven. If something works, you're going to see more of it. And in the broadcast TV realm, you have Shonda Rhimes, who's an African-American TV creator. She is basically propping up the ABC network with three shows...

  • 11:36:30

    HUNTMm-hmm.

  • 11:36:30

    BELLONI...on one night, Thursday nights. And they do very well. And they have very diverse casts. And the Emmys are reflecting that. You saw Viola Davis win. You saw Regina King win for her show. I mean because there is this opportunity of all the different networks and all the streaming services trying to get into the original programming game, there are more shows, more roles, more opportunities. And that's, you know, when you look at Viola Davis' Emmy speech, all she said was give us the opportunity.

  • 11:37:00

    HUNTRight.

  • 11:37:00

    BELLONIGive us the chance to do great work and we're going to do it.

  • 11:37:03

    KANGThere's volume. But, Michele, there's bravery as well, right?

  • 11:37:08

    NORRISWell, I -- Matthew, when you mentioned "Empire," you made me think of this interesting moment in 2015 where the number one television show was "Empire." The number one movie in the box office, for a few weeks running, was "Straight Outta Compton." And the number one Broadway production was "Hamilton."

  • 11:37:25

    KANGYes. Coming up, your calls and questions on Hollywood and diversity. We'll be right back.

  • 11:40:02

    KANGWelcome back. I'm Cecilia Kang with the New York Times sitting in for Diane Rehm. I'm joined by Michele Norris, the former anchor of NPR's "All Things Considered" and the founder of The Race Card Project. Matthew Belloni of The Hollywood Reporter, he is the executive editor there. And Darnell Hunt, a director of UCLA's Bunche Center for African-American Studies and the author of the annual Hollywood Diversity Report.

  • 11:40:27

    KANGOne of the movies that have been discussed quite a bit this year is "Creed" starring Michael B. Jordan.

  • 11:41:14

    KANGAnd we have a tweet from Scott. "Was the snub of 'Beasts Of No Nation' a snub due to race or was it a snub of Netflix? Not that it can't be both." Streaming has really shifted the economics of the entertainment industry and what do you think, Darnell, about how streaming and the money that's coming in from newcomers, like Netflix and Amazon, can this change perhaps some of the decision-making in Hollywood?

  • 11:41:43

    HUNTWell, I think any change has the potential to create opportunities for progress, but it depends on the decisions were made. So if we look at digital platforms, for example, compared to broadcast or cable, our studies have shown consistently that surprisingly digital platforms are a little bit worse than broadcast and cable in terms of the diversity in show creators, writers, lead actors, et cetera. And so as upstarts, a lot of these platforms that have gotten into original programming go back to the same well known show creators because they want to create a brand, you know.

  • 11:42:19

    HUNTHBO. It's not television, it's HBO. They're not digital, but you get the idea. They're trying to create a brand that's distinctive, that the business model is a little different. It's not about ratings. It's about buying a subscription and so they have this collection of stuff that they think people want to see. So if it's done by well known creators, the topics that seem provocative and compelling, that's how they sell their service. So unfortunately, that hasn't translated into the type of openings that we would've hoped to have seen so far.

  • 11:42:48

    KANGHow about at the Oscars, Matthew? Does the Academy view streaming as legitimate, if you will, as some of the other platforms, the traditional Hollywood platform?

  • 11:42:59

    BELLONII think that's an interesting question because, you know, it's so new and Netflix, which is very well funded, spent a significant amount of money this year promoting "Beasts Of No Nation" to the Academy specifically with voyeur consideration ads and screeners and events and a lot of those types of things that you see major studios doing and it got zero nominations. However, Netflix also promoted several of its documentary films that it has and it got two nominations for documentary film.

  • 11:43:34

    BELLONISo I don't think there is a wholesale rejection by the Academy of Netflix, per se, but Netflix is now battling in a very competitive market to get Academy members to see their films. And all that -- that’s all that is. In the first phase of Academy voting, all it is is getting these members to see your film and take it seriously and in that regard, Netflix is competing with a lot of different studios.

  • 11:44:01

    KANGWe have a call from Maurice in Charlottesville, Virginia. Hello, Maurice.

  • 11:44:07

    MAURICEHi, good morning.

  • 11:44:08

    KANGGood morning.

  • 11:44:09

    MAURICEQuick question for your panel. I wanted to know if they believe the appointment of Channing Dungey to ABC studios yesterday would have a positive impact on diversity in Hollywood.

  • 11:44:23

    KANGMichele? This is the head of -- the new head of ABC TV, entertainment.

  • 11:44:28

    NORRISJust announced yesterday, yeah. Well, you know, ABC is, as Darnell noted, is basically propped up now on the shoulders of Shonda Rhimes with a series of very successful programs and in taking that...

  • 11:44:43

    KANGAnd with also "Fresh Off The Boat" and other very diverse programs.

  • 11:44:44

    NORRISYes. And (unintelligible) and "Blackish" also...

  • 11:44:46

    BELLONI"Blackish"...

  • 11:44:47

    NORRISAnd "American Crime" and, you know, John Ridley has a fantastic franchise there. And so she has a wonderful platform to build on and she said that she's going to do just that with programming. And also, she talked about bringing some diversity to the sort of special programming that they do now and I think we're going to be seeing more of that also with NBC leading the way with their live programming, with "The Wiz" and things like that.

  • 11:45:12

    NORRISSo I expect that we will see some of that.

  • 11:45:15

    KANGMatt?

  • 11:45:15

    BELLONIWe should note Channing Dungey is the first African-American of any gender, but the first African-American woman to run a broadcast network and that was announced yesterday. And I had seen some things -- there was a big story in Hollywood and I had seen some people saying, oh, well, this is just ABC's response to the diversity issue and, you know, they're putting a black woman into that role. And I actually -- I don't think that's true. I think this woman got this job because she was known as having the best relationship with the number one piece of talent at ABC, who's Shonda Rhimes.

  • 11:45:53

    BELLONISo it's a good example...

  • 11:45:53

    KANGThat speaks to the value of Shonda Rhimes again.

  • 11:45:56

    BELLONIWell, it also speaks to the symbiotic relationship between talent and executives in Hollywood. You know, it's such a relationship-driven business that, you know, executives prosper because of their relationship with talent that matters to viewers and to other creative people. So the more diverse talent you have on your network, the more likely you are to ultimately see diverse executives ascend.

  • 11:46:21

    HUNTI think that's a key point that Matt is making and something we've talked about as kind of the business as usual. I mean, ABC, for the last few years, has really moved in this diversity direction, trying to kind of anticipate where the market is going. I mean, we're 39 percent people of color now and that's only going to increase in coming years so it's a great business investment. It just makes good business sense to hire someone who's in touch with that market and who also happens to be close with your number on show creator.

  • 11:46:47

    HUNTThis woman has been at ABC for a number of years. She was executive vice president for drama development. She was responsible for a lot of those ABC dramas, like "How To Get Away With Murder," "Once Upon A Time," the few things in the network that have actually been working. So it just makes sense for her to have this position and I think, you know, it's going to pay off for them down the line.

  • 11:47:06

    KANGWe have an email -- oh, go ahead, Michele.

  • 11:47:07

    NORRISAnd I think we should -- if I could just say one thing. We should just reject out of hand anytime someone gets a job when they have a proven track record and someone tries to say that it is only a diversity move, that they're only getting this job because they're trying to quiet the critics. She's earned this job, full stop, period. All stop.

  • 11:47:23

    KANGThank you. Email from Francois in Kerrville, Texas, says "are we going to pass up another opportunity to discuss the lack of other races besides the usual two-dimensional black and white being represented in Hollywood? I'm thinking specifically of Native people and Asians. Why does the discussion about race in America and today's topic about Hollywood always ignore the absence of representation of Native people and negligible representation of Asian people?" And, you know, Hispanics, we should add to this as well. Darnell.

  • 11:47:55

    HUNTWell, absolutely. I mean, great question and that's exactly what our report series tries to do. This is not called the Hollywood African American Report. It's the Hollywood Diversity Report and we look at various dimensions of diversity. You know, the groups -- Native Americans are virtually invisible. I mean, they're just not there. Latinos are there, but they're grossly underrepresented. In fact, they're probably the most underrepresented group in Hollywood because they are the largest minority group and they're just, you know, hardly there at all.

  • 11:48:22

    HUNTAfrican-Americans, in some places, are overrepresented, you know, in terms of just, you know, raw characters, not among leads with the important characters but raw characters. And I argue that's a reflection of who's running Hollywood and this whole black/white paradigm is a construction of white power and white privilege. And it's hard for the people in control to kind of imagine stories involving other diverse groups and this is why it's so critical to have diverse groups at the table making decisions about what gets green-lit with what budget and how, so...

  • 11:48:51

    KANGAnd what about Asians?

  • 11:48:53

    HUNTWell, absolutely. Asian-Americans, too. I mean, we look at all groups in our study. Asian-Americans, you know, are doing better in writing than they are in other arenas, but certainly in front of the camera, you don't -- you hardly see them. They're not represented all that well among, you know, lead actors and certainly in the network executive suites you don't see Asian Americans. So, you know, the argument we make in our study is that, you know, Hollywood needs to look more like America. Not just because it's the right thing to do, from a moral point of view, but because it makes good business sense. I don't think that...

  • 11:49:25

    KANGMichele, I'm sort of caught by the numbers that Darnell is talking about, specifically the particular underrepresentation of Hispanics. Why do you think that is? What's going on there?

  • 11:49:38

    NORRISYou know, I don't know exactly what's going on. I do know I talked to someone in Hollywood about this just this week and I asked this question and one of the things that they said surprised me, is that there is a parallel entertainment structure for Latinos not just in America, but globally, and that that is, in some ways, a disincentive for Hollywood or for the television entertainment industry to offer as many offerings as perhaps they should to serve a Latino audience.

  • 11:50:06

    NORRISNow, you have this interesting cross section here where some of the more successful shows that have Latino leads are actually derivative of shows that run on Latino entertainment channels, "Telenova" and "Ugly Betty" being two examples. But to reach back to what you said, we talked a lot about "Beast Of No Nation." There was someone else that was overlooked in "Beast of No Nation" and that was the director of "Beast Of No Nation" also.

  • 11:50:32

    KANGTell us.

  • 11:50:33

    NORRISWho probably was deserving of a nod there also and that's someone who happens to be Asian.

  • 11:50:41

    KANGThank you. We have a call from Sunshine in Hyattsville, Maryland. Hello, Sunshine.

  • 11:50:47

    SUNSHINEYes. Can you hear me?

  • 11:50:48

    KANGI sure can. Go on.

  • 11:50:49

    SUNSHINEOkay. (unintelligible) Oh, yes. It was mentioned earlier that Halle Berry and Denzel won the award where when I -- that's no consolation for "Monster Ball" and "Training Day" because they were the two -- my opinion -- most low-conscience vibration movies I've seen my favorite -- Denzel is my favorite 'cause he's my age -- and Halle, the movies I've even seen them be in. And I walked out feeling, like, yucky. So to me, that's no consolation that those two big stars won the award for the worst movies I've seen.

  • 11:51:27

    SUNSHINEThat's my opinion. And that to Hispanics, they're nothing but Spanish-speaking Natives, but yes, we need to have more of role of...

  • 11:51:38

    KANGAll right. Thank you for your call. Michele, do you have thoughts on sort of the movie choices that are getting recognized that contain people of color?

  • 11:51:47

    NORRISWell, you know, when you -- she said that they are two actors who won for films that didn't necessarily make her feel good. That may be a sign of stellar acting, the idea that you can take on a role and make someone hate you that, you know, you fully embody a character to the point that you are almost unrecognizable. And so the role of an actor is not necessarily, although it's entertainment, is not necessarily to make you feel good. It's to do whatever the role calls for. And in both of those cases, particularly with "Training Day," it called for, you know, the actor to be someone who was fairly repugnant. And he did it very well.

  • 11:52:24

    KANGIt was clearly memorable for her. It was clearly memorable.

  • 11:52:26

    BELLONIWell, there is an interesting thing. We did a chart at the Hollywood Reporter looking at the kinds of roles that won the Oscar for African-American actors and it wasn't 100 percent, but overwhelmingly if you play a housekeeper or a slave or a psychopath or someone in that kind of genre, you are much more likely to win an Oscar if you are African-American.

  • 11:52:54

    HUNTYeah, I've seen data on that.

  • 11:52:56

    NORRISOr to be nominated for an Oscar.

  • 11:52:57

    HUNTOr to be nominated, yes, exactly.

  • 11:52:58

    KANGI'm Cecilia Kang with the New York Times. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You wanted to respond to that, Michele?

  • 11:53:06

    NORRISNo, I was just saying to be nominated because so few people have actually won Oscars. But, you know, to Matthews point, Forest Whitaker won for his role in "The Last King of Scotland." Not a very likable guy in that role. But I guess Jamie Foxx might have -- might buck the trend there because he won for, you know, his role in "Ray Charles."

  • 11:53:28

    KANGWe have a call from Matt in Rochester Hills, Michigan. Hello, Matt, you're on the air.

  • 11:53:33

    MATTHi, thanks for taking my call.

  • 11:53:35

    KANGYou're welcome.

  • 11:53:35

    MATTSo I certainly agree with the statement of the problem here, but some of the solutions proposed -- and I'm just sort of I'm left wondering whether they really get at the root of the issue or if they're just sort of a quick solutions. And one of the examples I would use is just, you know, the idea of well, let's just put more people of color in the positions where they're making decisions. And on the surface, that seems like a good idea, but philosophically, it causes me to wonder is a person of color voting for more persons of color different somehow from a white person voting for a person 'cause they're white?

  • 11:54:10

    MATTI'm wondering if some of the panel could offer some more clarity on the sort of the logic behind those moves.

  • 11:54:17

    KANGMatt?

  • 11:54:17

    BELLONII think that that is a key point because you saw a number of Academy members come forward. And they don't typically do this, but a number of Academy members came forward after these rule changes were announced to make that exact point. They're saying, you know, to kick out some of these more senior members who have been less active is ageist. It is basically saying that they don't understand what a good film is anymore and that, you know, they're very upset that their taste is being called into question.

  • 11:54:45

    BELLONIBut the counter to that is, the thinking is not necessarily that more minority voters in the Academy will necessarily automatically vote for minority films, but it's that the sensibility of the Academy will change a little bit. And it helps to know how voting works. You're essentially -- Academy members are given a stack of movie screeners over the holidays and you're told to watch as many as you can and vote for your favorites. And the thinking is, if you are a 75-year-old white male who, you know, came up in the '50s and '60s, and has a certain sensibility, you're gonna look at that "Straight Outta Compton" DVD and you're gonna say, mm, gangster rap, F the police.

  • 11:55:30

    BELLONIMaybe I'm just not gonna watch that one. And that's where you see -- or maybe you watch it and you like it, but you put it fifth or sixth on your ballet instead of "Brooklyn" which you really related to and you put number one. And I think that's the kind of thinking that the Academy thinks it is going to change by altering the demographics of the group.

  • 11:55:50

    HUNTBeauty is in the eye of the beholder. It just boils to that. It's about culture. It's about experiences and the fact that more experiences, people with difference experiential backgrounds need to be a part of the process. That more accurately reflects where we are as a nation, as a people, and that's what we're not seeing right now with the Academy.

  • 11:56:07

    KANGAnd Michele, do you have any other thoughts on solutions, besides what the Academy has done?

  • 11:56:12

    NORRISOne of the things, and I guess I'm gonna ask this in the form of a question and Darnell and Matthew may be able to answer it, but in terms of winnowing the Academy to make way for others -- one of the things that I'm wondering about is how they will change the qualifications for actually joining the Academy because you have to have a certain body of work. You have to have worked on a certain kind of film in order to get into the Academy.

  • 11:56:32

    NORRISOf course, if you get a nomination, you're automatically in. But I wonder if either Matthew or Darnell can speak to that because that would -- that is very important in terms of changing the demographics in the body of the voting Academy.

  • 11:56:43

    KANGVery quickly, can one of you respond to that?

  • 11:56:46

    BELLONIGo ahead.

  • 11:56:46

    HUNTI'll just say really quickly, I mean, what's interesting in some of these anecdotal stories about disgruntled members who came forward when the change was announced, you had to question some of their qualifications. It wasn't like they were these, you know, these pillars of artistic creativity, you know, in some cases. Now, obviously, there are a lot of people in the Academy who are very well known and very accomplished. The point I'm trying to make is that we're talking about standards that are established by someone from a particular perspective.

  • 11:57:16

    HUNTAnd as long as they're true to some basic ideas of what artistic accomplishments when they admit members, I think they're gonna be on firm ground with these changes.

  • 11:57:24

    KANGDarnell Hunt of UCLA, Matthew Belloni of The Hollywood Reporter and Michele Norris, former anchor of NPR and founder of The Race Card Project. I'm Cecilia Kang with the New York Times sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thank you for listening.

Topics + Tags

Comments

comments powered by Disqus
Most Recent Shows

Tracking Local Reparations Efforts In The U.S.

Friday, Oct 01 2021Cities and states across the country are exploring reparations programs for Black Americans, but not all reparations advocates think it's the right approach. Diane talks to Mayor Daniel Biss of Evanston, Ill., and William Darity, Jr., and Kirsten Mullen, the co-authors of the book, "From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century”