Do Black Lives Matter in Hollywood?

By Chinedum Aguwa (’22)

This summer, mass protests erupted throughout the world provoked by the killing of Mr. George Floyd. People that supported these protests called against police brutality and systemic racism. 

Businesses and schools have taken the initiative to eliminate inequality and racism in their community. Historic brands such as Aunt Jemima are changing their names due to racial stereotypes. The NFL’s Washington Redskins is now the Washington Football Team. In Hollywood, studios and music companies vowed monetary contributions to antiracism organizations and expressed devotion to diversity. Internal memos called for action on the unsuccessful record of racial equality and diversity of the film industry.

In today’s article, I will be focusing on Black representation in Hollywood; overall, Hollywood needs a significant change in racial diversity especially concerning race (whether that worker is an African American, American Indian, Alaskan Native, Asian and Pacific Islander, or Hispanic).  

Hollywood and the entertainment industry as a whole has had many failures, especially when it comes to race. Many Black celebrities have talked about systemic racism in Hollywood. Amber Riley, a former cast member of the hit show “Glee” stated to Variety that, “We need to address why the Black experience is diminished when it comes to telling you what happened, why we’re not believed, why we feel afraid for our jobs, why we feel disposable.”

According to the UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report, in 2017, whites remained overrepresented in top films, representing 77%, while the population of whites in the United States is 60.4%. Additionally, African Americans claimed only 9% of film roles but claim 13.4% of the United States population. There are many other professions in Hollywood besides actors and actresses that Black people are largely underrepresented in. In 2017, 1 out of 10 directors are people of color (POC- Black, Latinx, Asians, etc.). 

According to the report, films such as the Latino-fronted Pixar animation film, Coco and Marvel Studios’ Black Panther showed that racially diverse casts pull in extremely lucrative grosses at the box office. However, underrepresented voices still have quite a ways to go when it comes to writing and directing. 

To be fair, some Hollywood institutions have made an effort to improve on their Black representation; however, another issue that Hollywood is facing is dark-skinned artists being left behind in the entertainment industry as colorism as well as racism is always present. Colorism is the thought that light-skinned minorities are given more advantages than their darker-skinned peers, a concept that remains prevalent in the entertainment industry. One notable example of this is when the trailer of the book to film adaptation of The Hate You Give came out. The lead actress Amanda Stenberg played the book’s main protagonist who was supposed to be an African American girl of a much, much darker complexion. Hollywood has the tendency to say to the public “we are racially diverse!…But we really aren’t”, even when they cast a Black person into a role. 

Hollywood itself is imbued with white privilege and a patriarchal framework structured to be unfair. The issue now is whether Hollywood, a city founded on the foundation of exclusivity and inequity, will make its dedication to inclusion successful and strengthen the contributions of Black talent and other creatives of color. 

So what does Hollywood need to do to fix the implemented racial injustice? Some suggestions that I have are: 

  • Each studio should have casting directors and recruiters focus on increasing the numbers of people of color on the stage and behind the scenes. 
  • Hollywood should focus on portraying people of color on screen without stereotypes as a personality. 
  • Ensure that all voices and experiences are heard and welcome in writer’s rooms.  
  • Establish networking and mentoring programs for people of color.

In conclusion, Hollywood has a long history of racism and colorism towards Black Americans in the entertainment industry, but there is still hope that people of power will make changes to make everyone’s voices heard.

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