“Things either call for things or they don’t.” These are words from director Tim Burton on the topic of diversity within Hollywood. In an interview with Bustle, the two-time Academy Award nominee responded to criticism of the lack of diversity within his latest cinematic endeavour, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, which involved an almost entirely white cast.
October is Black History Month, it is a time dedicated to the remembrance of those who fought against the struggles of African diaspora but also to celebrate the significant historical contributions of black people around the world. In honouring the significant achievements, which have led to more racial equality, it must not be forgotten that racial discrimination and a lack of racial representation are still problems – particularly in Hollywood.
Burton’s dismissive excuse also included a flashback to the political correctness of having a Black or Asian character present in The Brady Bunch, as well as some lacklustre self-praise for him not demanding that Blaxploitation movies cast more white people. The views expressed by Burton do not only show an ignorant detachment from modern society, but are a reflection of the attitudes deeply embedded within the Hollywood ethos.
It’s no secret that there are numerous elements of racism within Hollywood. A common characteristic of traditional establishment is the structural favouring to the white demographic. From the highest levels of the hierarchy there is a domination of a white presence, which is then filtered down to the various levels subsequent to it. Being singularly dominated, there is a concentration on one projected white perspective thus creating, in the process, disengagement from non-white perspectives.
This has been proven factually. In a recent report conducted by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, it was found that Hollywood is suffering from an “epidemic of invisibility” with not only ethnic minorities, but also to women and the LGBT community.
Of the 109 films and 305 series examined, the report showed that 28.3% characters were minorities, which was 10% less than what makes up the US population. Perhaps the largest disparity of representation was off-screen, with 87% of directors being white and 94.3% of TV directors being white. Inherently the study found that the structure of Hollywood: “still functions as a straight, white boys club.”
The “epidemic of invisibility” is so ingrained in Hollywood culture that even when racial diversity is called for, it is simply ignored. The term ‘whitewashing’ is used to describe the process in which white actors are cast in roles that are historically non-white. This process has been seen with D.W Griffith’s controversial 1915 flick, Birth of a Nation, which involved the use of black face.
More recently, films such as The Last Air Bender and Exodus: Kings and Gods have done the same thing, with the upcoming Marvel movie, Dr Strange, including a Tibetan Tilda Swinton following suit. In the case of whitewashing, the original ethnicity of a character is eroded in order appeal to the mass of the mainstream demographic. Hollywood executives forfeit the opportunity for ethnic involvement in exchange for a projected higher profit margin.
With controversies as recent as #OscarsSoWhite, which recognised the absence of actors of colour at this year’s Academy Awards, as well as the whitewash plague, it’s clear that racial inequality within Hollywood is still rampant. However, as conversations on race relations are becoming more significant in light of movements like Black Lives Matter, the injustices of racial inequality are beginning to be addressed more frequently.
As the steps are being taken to bridge the gap of racial representation, the cogs of progression are starting to turn in a superstructure that has played its part in shaping a divided racial consciousness.