Sunday, February 26, 2012

Hollywood in Black and White

A hush will fall over this teeming megalopolis this afternoon, traffic will cease, streets will empty.

It's Oscar day and no matter where you live, on this day you live in Hollywood.

And when Hollywood struts its stuff, we all watch.

I'm betting the ratings will be unaffected by the recent disclosure in the Los Angeles Times that the majority of Academy voters are 94 percent Caucasian and 77 percent male with a median age of 62.

In other words, old white guys.

It was a nice bit of reporting by the Times. The Academy is more secretive than the Tournament of Roses which is more secretive that the CIA. It took a major effort to unearth that data.

But the revelation is hardly shocking. Just look at the best movie nominations this year: "Moneyball," "The Artist," "The Descendants," "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close," "War Horse," "Hugo," "Midnight in Paris," "The Tree of Life." All movies that deal with lives and loves of white folks.

Only "The Help," nominated for Best Picture contains much in the way of ethnic diversity.

Consider the top grossing films of 2011.

"Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows," "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," "The Twilight Saga," "The Hangover Part II," "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides." You can fill out the list with a bunch of animated features.

Again, hardly a diverse selection unless you count cartoon characters
as minorities.

And again, hardly breaking news. The Times article pointed out that Jesse Jackson protested the lack of diversity in the Academy some 16 years ago.

Progress? Last year there wasn't one black presenter.

Hollywood has historically been run by white males, for the most part. So is the American auto industry but film shapes people's perceptions and attitudes a lot more than SUVs do.

Which is why we should care.

The industry has paid lip service to diversification for years, but ultimately it amounts to very little.

Sydney Poitier is not the only black actor in town anymore and a woman actually won a Best Director Oscar last year. Those are baby steps in an industry that should be making giant strides.

Indeed, the most successful minority in the movie business is Tyler Perry, whose film and television productions have earned more than $500 million worldwide.

He did it on his own, running his own studios in Atlanta. He personally made $130 million last year, according to Forbes magazine.

That's a lot of money for Hollywood to ignore.

Diversification is made even more problematic because Hollywood is a closed society.

Want a job as a carpenter, or grip, or lighting technician? You had better know someone who knows someone if you want work.

Want to succeed as an actor or director? You have a better chance of winning the lottery.

Still, changes are necessary if movies are to truly reflect the society in which we live.

Blacks are about 2 percent of the Academy, and Latinos are less than 2 percent.

That's just wrong.

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