10/06/2014 08:24 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2014

I'm Blond, Blue-Eyed, and the New Face of Diversity

Wes Stewart

Well, as far as Hollywood goes.

Let me be clear. I am white. Like, really white. Not only is my skin exceedingly fair, I wear clogs. But since I'm a director, and women direct a whopping 4.1 percent of studio films and 14 percent of television, I am a minority.

Men of color fair a little better but if you're a non-white woman, you're practically a unicorn (2 percent). Which is not to say women and people of color are not directing. We are. We just have to do it outside of the primary power structure and without studio financing.

Casually, I think most Americans would agree that there should be equal representation behind the lens. And I don't suspect a high-level Hollywood conspiracy. No racist or sexist villains lurking in the halls of power, twirling their mustaches. Honestly, I think dudes are comfortable with other dudes, so they hire them.

And it's not like Hollywood actually needs women and minorities. Television is in its heyday, with incredibly creative, innovative programming everywhere you look. Movies had a crappy summer but the film business isn't going anywhere. Hollywood is doing fine without us. Making money. Telling cool stories.

So, why does it matter?

Well, it doesn't. To Hollywood. But it might to you.

The more media a girl watches, the fewer options she feels she has in life. The more media a boy watches, the more likely he is to develop sexist views. No wonder. Only 25 percent of leads in movies are women, and men are more likely to be shown with a job. Weirdly, we don't even have equal representation when it comes to crowd scenes.

But when a woman writes or directs, there are more women on screen and behind the scenes. When someone of color tells a story, they look at the world through a different lens than a white guy. (Not that there's anything wrong with being a white guy. Some of my best friends are... Well, you know the joke.)

Stories are powerful. If young black men were regularly portrayed as dimensional, lead characters, would police officers or neighborhood vigilantes assume that a kid in a hoodie was a danger? Women and girls are four times more likely to be explicitly sexualized on film and television. There's a sexual assault every two minutes in America. The way we see each other on the screen deeply impacts how treat each other in life.

This summer, I had the incredible privilege of directing a new media pilot for Color Creative TV -- a production company founded by Issa Rae and Deniese Davis. Issa became an Internet star with her brilliant web series, The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl. She used her media platform to change the viewing landscape by producing three comedy pilots written and directed by women and people of color. Outside of the usual power structure, without control from a studio or network.

Words With Girls, a terrific script written by Brittani Nichols about three lesbian 20-something roommates, is a funny story about people we don't often see on TV. But, if you've ever been dumped, or fallen short of your dreams, or tried to figure out what you want to be when you grow up, you'll relate. Even if you're not gay or female or 23 or black or white or mixed race.

Obviously, media can't fix racism and sexism (not to mention homophobia). But what we see informs who we are. The good news is, you call the shots. The studios, networks and new media platforms just want your money. They're capitalist-neutral. If you seek out stuff made by someone other than a white guy once in a while, watch how quickly the world on the screen will start to reflect the diversity of our actual world. And you'll have fun, sneaking a peek into a life that isn't exactly yours but feels remarkably the same.

After all, none of us is a rat with dream of becoming a chef but -- come on -- who didn't love Ratatouille?


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