Janice Chung, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s Fall 2016 Mass Communication Law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the following essay in response to the prompt: “#OscarsSoWhite was widely discussed. Do you think that TV shows and movies should be required to have more diversity, or should it continue to play out as it does?”
#OscarsSoWhite yet again resurged following the 2016 Oscar Awards for the lack of diversity among the list of actors and actresses in the ranking nominees. Caught in a time broiling with racial and gender issues, the ceremony added some more spark to the fuel, eventually bringing out a public apology from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. While the nearly all-white nominee list is more than peculiar for such a diverse nation, actors of color should not be shoehorned onto the ranks to support a politically correct viewpoint. Rather than blaming those making the decisions behind the screens, we should push and challenge ourselves, as content creators, to broaden film and television beyond the white standard.
I dare juxtapose the debate with the issue of affirmative action that begun in 1977. A subject that has been of legal and political controversy for ages in the U.S., current educational institutions continue to consider race as a factor when admitting students. While other countries, such as the U.K., render the policy illegal and a “positive discrimination,” America has always held a standard for diversity that spirits its people to stand up and speak out about. The focal problem in the case of the “white” Oscars is not only the paradigm of the melting pot itself but its genre of art – and art that reflects a people. When an entire mixed nation is viewing the same movies, TV shows, Netflix, and other media content, it is the millions of Americans who have set and confined their standard of film to be of the same type of story, characters, actors, and directors they have looked up to in the past. Perhaps, if an African-American lead or a Korean-American female protagonist were to bring about a stellar performance that would deviate from the usual template we know, it would change the collective mindset. Even now, regardless of the color of their skin, I myself would hesitate to bet my money on an Asian American to hit it big in Hollywood – there just hasn’t been a contender yet. However, this exact discussion of the colorless Oscars, along with the many black vs. white fiascos spurring in states throughout the nation, are urging that it is a time we are looking for that forerunner to turn the table. More and more people may be waiting for the present white-male standard in films to be broken and for a new story to arise.
More than pushing for a requirement in TV and film to be diverse or resorting to the “American dilemma” (how the nation should treat African Americans, people of color, and women), I believe we need a greater story that is compelling, potent, and worth-your-stake to break the conventional standard and extend the Hollywood viewpoint. Rather than lashing at the chamber that makes these award decisions, we can ask our individual societies what we are doing to change Hollywood.
Janice is a senior at Pepperdine University majoring in Advertising.
Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Media Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.