In the midst of final preparations for my hosting duties on the Oscars® Backstage live stream at Oscar.com this Sunday, I've got some things on my mind. In particular, the issue of representation and diversity in media. Here are some recent facts:
- Two of the top five grossing movies of 2015 (Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Furious 7) featured Black and Latino actors as lead characters. The global box office of these two films surpassed that of all the Best Pictures nominees combined
- Empire was the top-rated television series of the 2014-15 season in the 18-49 demographic, second only to Sunday Night Football.
- Viola Davis made history as the first African American woman to win the Primetime Emmy for Best Actress for her electrifying role as Annalise Keating on ABC's hit series How to Get Away With Murder.
- ABC Entertainment's new president Channing Dungey just became the first African American to ever head a major television network.
- The characters of Michonne and Rick on AMC's juggernaut The Walking Dead FINALLY consummated a slow burn relationship proving that a black woman and white man can be colleagues, friends and lovers, and it changes NOTHING. The portmanteau Richonne shall reign eternal in the hearts and minds of fandoms everywhere.
- This past Wednesday, the ABC show Blackish aired a powerful and important episode that thoughtfully explored real world issues around police brutality, the #BlackLivesMatter movement and how we talk about these subjects amongst our families and within our communities.
In the 30 years I've been working in the entertainment industry as a writer, producer and actor, I can't think of a time when I've been as excited about the opportunities that lay ahead for black people as I am now. One of the areas we need to drastically improve is around representations of black women in media but we're seeing some exciting signs of improvement. I wish I could say the same for other communities outside the status quo. Some disturbing trends:
- According to the 2010 Census, one in five people (or 20 percent of the U.S. population) identify as having some kind of disability but less than one percent of characters in film and television are disabled. Even when they are, those roles are almost exclusively given to able-bodied actors who often go on to win awards for those portrayals. So basically, if you're disabled, Hollywood doesn't care what color you are. They're still giving your part to someone without a disability. If that's not the 2016 version of blackface I don't know what is.
- According to a collaborative study titled "The Latino Media Gap: A Report on the State of Latinos in U.S. Media," released in 2014 and executed in partnership with by The Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race at Columbia University (CSER), the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) and The National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts (NHFA), Latinos represent roughly 17 percent of the U.S. population but appear as characters in less than two percent of films and television shows.
- Although Asian Americans make up roughly five percent of the U.S. population and appear as characters in four percent of films and television shows, the majority of those representations embody pernicious stereotypes. My friend Brian Tee's portrayal of Dr. Ethan Choi on NBC's Chicago Med is a welcome reversal of this trend but we still have a long way to go.
As Hollywood celebrates its biggest night, I plan to lead the charge for inclusion and representation of all groups in the media. That way, in the very near future we can all look back and take pride in a banner year of diversity for everyone in our industry, regardless of race, creed, orientation, ability or gender.
PS: I stand in solidarity with the amazing stunt people in our industry in their quest for awards season recognition. Although I do all my own stunts.