I have never watched an Oscar ceremony before. I don't usually know any of the movies that are up for awards. This year I still didn't watch it, but I paid more attention to the Oscars because of the racial controversy.
I am not well versed on this issue, and I am coming from the perspective of a white movie-goer, but it appears to me that the problem is both simple and complex. It is simple in that it is clear there is a problem of prejudice in the film industry. It is complex in how to go about solving that issue.
Let's deal with the simple first. Wether it is conscious or not, there is a bias not just against blacks but against minorities when it comes to art. It was just last year that Misty Copeland became the first black woman to make principle dancer in the American Ballet Theatre. The bias is a problem not just in film, but in theatre, dance, and probably the other art forms as well.
The longer we deny the prejudice or try to paint it as something else, the longer the bias will have it's hold on us. I have become aware of my own prejudices against people that are different from me over the past several years. It's been horrifying to see those seeds of superiority living in my heart, but knowing that they are there has allowed me to start working on them. Similarly the art world has to stop pretending.
But fixing it is complicated. In David Cox's article on #OscarsSoWhite he points out that the problem is not just the Oscars; it is the film industry. They aren't as many minority actors, movies, directors, screenwriters as there are white. I think that's what we need to focus on changing. Making the Oscars more diverse will only be a bandaid if we don't solve the lack of opportunities for minorities to receive education, experience, and jobs in the art community.
We run into this issue from the gender perspective all the time at POTS. I frequently get into discussions about how the majority of our scenes and plays have roles for women that are romantic, seemingly equating women's worth to their relationship status.
Some of this is because right now we do a lot of material from the classics, and in that time frame women were reduced to their marriageability. Some of it is because we are youth theatre and many of the plays that have great female characters aren't age appropriate. But some of it is because it is hard to find strong roles for women. This is not true of all theatre, but it seems like female characters are often used either to be doormats or to be sex-objects. Neither of those are roles I want my girls to play or my boys to see as standards of womanhood.
I've been a rampage to find material for my theatre that has good female roles and works for a children's theatre. This is why I started writing original work. I was so tired of female characters that were only background support or being used by men in one way or another.
I don't think this is always intentional. I think it's leftover baggage from past generations of women's roles being very limited. As we move farther away from that idea, as women in all spheres of life becomes the norm, and as more women write, I have hope that the disparity of roles for women, and particularly strong roles, will cease. I have a similar hope that this will happen for minorities as well.
But in case of both gender bias and racial bias there is the fear that if the industry creates arbitrary rules about diversity, it will become a badge of honor instead of a moral foundation. This opens up minorities to be mistreated in a different way: instead of being ignored they become the "token" women/latino/black person that prove so and so is diverse. David Cox commented on that by saying:
This is danger, isn't it? Finding a way to promote fairness and opportunity without doing a twisted, reverse kind of bias where someone's race of gender is seen before their personhood and their performance.
I cannot speak for race minorities, and I am not at all attempting to, but I can speak to the gender bias that is present in art. As a woman I want my work to be promoted and supported because it's excellent, not just because I am woman.
We need diversity in art. So how do we create opportunities for minorities and women to have equal representation in the art world? Bolstering access without patronizing the marginalized can be a tricky line to walk. The creator of #OscarsSoWhite, April Reign, created a list of steps that take to work towards creating a rich, diverse film industry that promotes without patronizing. Check it out here: 10 steps.
But we also need to address the concept of diversity on a large cultural scale. It seems to me that a lot of white America is afraid of losing our culture. This is hard for me to understand, because I have always thought American's culture was rather boring and bland. But regardless of the richness of America's culture, from a Christian perspective diversity isn't an option. It's one of the things God is working towards in the redemption of His people.
As a Christian theatre company, as Christian artists, as everyday followers of Christ, I believe we are called to embrace diversity, to love and interact with people regardless of difference, to treat every one with respect and dignity. Is it hard? Yes. I still struggle with knowing how to relate to people that are different from me. That was one of the things I appreciated about the play "Honkey." It reminded me again that I fail to love people from other cultures. It reminded me that I need to keep working on it.
I'm glad that the #OscarsSoWhite trended and is continuing to be a news item. It's created good conversations in my circles about how to address this problem, and I hope that it is prompting conversations in other circles as well. Maybe if we can stop pretending that prejudice doesn't exist and start talking to each other and listening to each other we can move forward in healing the racial divide in our neighborhoods, churches, film industry, and country.