This year at Raindance Film Festival, a wide variety of films from different filmmakers was shown, making for an impressive and diverse lineup.
The move toward increasing diversity within the film industry has catapulted in recent years, with protests like the OscarsSoWhite hashtag pressuring film executives to be more inclusive. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization responsible for the Academy Awards or “The Oscars” as they’re more commonly known, has committed to doubling the number of women and minorities by 2020. But the fact remains that as of 2016, the academy is around 89% white and 73% male. Just this past August, the BFI published their annual Employment in the Film Industry Statistical Yearbook where they claimed that “women made up 13% of directors and 16% of screenwriters of British films released in the UK in 2016.” These numbers are paltry. And I’m sure if we were to look at the numbers for women of color, they would be even worse.
Historically, straight, white men have been the ones in positions of power in the film industry (the television industry, any industry, the world), giving them the unique power to decide which stories are told and which are not. They are the tastemakers of society, and this is a disservice to women, people of color, queer folks, female actresses over 40, etc. And it is a disservice to audiences. How are you supposed to know what stories your audience (an audience that will most definitely consist of more than just white men) wants to see when you only have one demographic calling the shots?
When you have a lack of diversity in the boardroom, you have a lack of perspective, which can significantly blind you. Ex-head of Amazon Studios Roy Price came under considerable scrutiny, sexual harassment allegations aside, for passing on “Big Little Lies” and “The Handmaid’s Tale,” both of which tell powerful stories about women and both of which won big at the Emmys. Price also canceled “Good Girls Revolt” after one season, and even admitted that he had never watched it.
Diversity in the boardroom is important for making sure the best, most unique stories are being told. Which will then, of course, lead to more diversity on screen. Representation is excruciatingly important. There is a sociological theory called Labeling Theory, which is the theory of how people’s identity and behavior can be determined by the terms used to classify them, in other words, how they are labeled. The theory is akin to concepts such as stereotyping and self-fulfilling prophecies. If we don’t let Indian actors be anything but the tech guys and the cab drivers, that could have negative consequences for Indian audience members. Furthermore, by typecasting and stereotyping entire minority groups, we are alienating legions upon legions of talented actors and writers and directors that could revolutionize the film industry. How can we truly diversify the film industry when we can barely diversify the big screen? If we increase representation on screen, we increase interest in audience members. We remind them that their stories are worth being told, too. It’s a fairly simple equation.
People want new stories and new characters. They want to see something that hasn’t seen done before. And the fact is, white people, white men, specifically, have already done everything, including play other races. There’s nothing they can’t do and there’s nothing they haven’t done.
It’s common for white men to feel threatened whenever the words “diversity” and “representation” are thrown around. Remember when they wanted to boycott the latest Star Wars film because there was a female lead AND a black stormtrooper? In his latest stand up special “Annihilation,” Patton Oswalt points out the sudden emergence of “White Genocide,” saying, “White people… we used to be in charge of, like, 99.9% of [stuff]. And in recent years, that number has plummeted to 96.4%. We are on the way out.” In other words, we are not on the way out. White people can afford to share some of the power they hold in various industries across the world. “Sharing is caring” is one of the first lessons you learn as a child. You know what other lessons children often learn? To not interrupt, and to wait for their turn to speak. We white people have spoken a lot, for a while.
And if you still feel threatened, don’t worry! We are literally untouchable. If you’re white and you don’t believe that you’re untouchable, consider Donald Trump. Accused by multiple women of sexual harassment, bankrupted a casino (kind of impressive, because that’s virtually impossible), said he would date his own daughter (less impressive, because that’s virtually incest), potentially thinks Frederick Douglass is still alive. No experience as a politician. And he was elected President of the United States. So worry not, white people! You can do anything! So why is it such a big deal to give other people the opportunity to do something, too?