When the nominations came out for the 88th Academy Awards, too much of white Hollywood rushed to bury their heads to avoid becoming headlines or caterwauled denials about the prevalence of racism within its industry. But one of Hollywood’s most powerful players listened. He heard the complaints. He saw the passion of the public Hollywood supposedly aims to please. And he decided to actively contribute to the change in representation they demand.
THR reports Abrams’ company Bad Robot is teaming with the agency CAA and its studio partners Warner Bros. and Paramount to “require that women and minorities are submitted for writing, directing and acting jobs for the company in proportion to their representation in the U.S. population.” This is a major break from current Hollywood hiring practices that overwhelmingly favor white men, so much so a a federal investigation has been launched on the matter.
Abrams explained, “We’ve been working to improve our internal hiring practices for a while, but the Oscars controversy was a wake-up call to examine our role in expanding opportunities internally at Bad Robot and externally with our content and partners.”
This is an intriguing approach. It’s not a quota system, plugging in people of color and women so Bad Robot can have better optics. It’s a new hiring practice that would seek out talent that is too often ignored. Bad Robot’s approach is a smart way to level the playing field, opening doors to talented writers/directors and actors regardless of the “niche” Hollywood believes they should fill.
Consider for a moment: If Nicole Perlman listened to the feedback that women aren’t meant for sci-fi writing, we’d never have gotten the incredibly fun Guardians of the Galaxy. If Nate Parker listened to all the declarations that no one wants a biopic about Nat Turner, Birth of a Nation would never have made waves at Sundance and kick-started 2017 Oscar talk.
Hollywood stands on a tradition of repeating concepts that “work,” which explains its litany of sequels and remakes as well as the dominance of blandsome white actors and white men dominating basically every field in the industry. Remarkably, no matter how many sequels/remakes tank, no matter how many Taylor Kitschs come and go, no matter how many movies stuffed with white men in front of and behind the scenes fail, Hollywood repeats repeats repeats. Conversely, women-fronted films are still considered a “fad,” and black A-listers are written off as anomalies, instead of proof audiences don’t need a white man in the lead to connect to a character’s journey.
The true case for inclusion is not a PC one of “everything should be fair.” It’s Hollywood. That’s a fairy tale. The case for inclusion should be that when we break down these prejudicial barriers of institutional sexism and racism, there will be a place were talent can better thrive. Look at Abrams’ last movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He went against Hollywood convention for a massively budgeted movie and made a woman, a black man, and a Latino man as its leads. And in a franchise that had long side-lined women and people of color! And yeah, there were reactionary racist outbursts. But these were soon forgotten with wave upon wave of exuberant fan love across gender and race lines, celebrating a wonderfully fun movie and rejoicing in the charm bomb that is Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac.
As Abrams himself said, “We’re working to find a rich pool of representative, kick-ass talent and give them the opportunity they deserve and we can all benefit from,” he says. “It’s good for audiences and it’s good for the bottom line.”
So, cheers to Abrams, Bad Robot, and their collaborators for actively seeking to change a system that hurts people and impedes talent. And cheers to Abrams for citing #OscarsSoWhite for opening his eyes instead of pretending such a move was inevitable.
We interwebbers can outcry all we like. But if Hollywood’s power players aren’t on board, nothing will truly change. So it’s a big damn deal that Abrams is not only making change happen, but also crediting the web activism that opened his eyes.
Kristy Puchko lives in
perpetual fear that ice cream will become self-aware New York City.