Hollywood’s Equality Dilemma

Get OutNow that the Oscar dust (or should that be glitter?) has settled, Hollywood can give itself a pat on the back for its celebration of diversity. After all, it managed to successfully deliver messages of equality and female empowerment through its nominees and its winners. Those present at the various awards ceremonies really feel like they have done their bit in terms of showcasing the industry as a place for fairness; for all.

There was a huge buzz for Get Out, a remarkable film by Jordan Peele who, deservedly, walked away with a golden statue for Best Original Screenplay. Yet, while the Oscars marketed their self-congratulatory celebration of racial issues by a black filmmaker, there were reports that voters hadn’t even bothered watching the film as they didn’t deem it Oscar-worthy.

It’s no secret that the Academy would make the cavemen look modern. Audiences are demanding that more progressive productions be celebrated. However, these equality movements are sweeping in their generality; more black nominees, more female directors, more representation for those that feel suppressed in the straight white male world. While the fight for equality is one that should never be surrendered, the focus is turning on the stories told as some find particular themes problematic.

There was an outcry that Sam Rockwell won the Oscar on Sunday for portraying a particularly nasty character. By giving him the award, are we vindicating the type of behaviour his character displayed? The short answer is: No. Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino was scorned for his casting of two straight actors in the lead roles. His reply was simply that they were his choice as they were the most talented.

There are certain types of films that just wouldn’t get made anymore. For example, in American History X we see Ed Norton’s violent and reprehensible racist find redemption. Now, him and Rockwell’s prejudiced police officer’s story arcs are different, but can anyone imagine American History X being well received in 2018 with its utterly vile characters? Most of which don’t get the comeuppance we know they deserve. Heath Ledger’s Joker learns nothing by the end of The Dark Knight but awarding him a posthumous Oscar isn’t accepting of his mass murdering villainous ways. Rockwell was, and should have been, awarded for his acting. The whole point of the Oscars is to award the talent on display; not the type of character being portrayed.

It’s disappointing equality and diversity is overlooked if the movie isn’t well received. The DC Universe cast Will Smith, front and centre of the now maligned, Suicide Squad, playing Deadshot – who is traditionally drawn as white in the comics. DC itself has been very liberal in its output; often casting POC in white roles and having prominently characters in same sex relationships. They also wasted no time in making Wonder Woman while Marvel twiddled their thumbs on whether to make a female led movie. DC aren’t the darlings of film critics, though, and aren’t revered in the same way.

Gal-Gadot-Wonder-WomanThat being said, there was a stream of articles and social media commentary complaining that Gal Gadot was too Israeli to play Wonder Woman. Are these people even aware that – in their quest for equality – they are cherry picking issues to bat for?

Marvel are getting the plaudits just now for Black Panther, yet there doesn’t seem too much acknowledgment of the path that got them there. It’s great that Black Panther resonates with so many on a cultural level and is empowering many young black men and women in different ways. However, what would the response be like if a reviewer or critic said that they didn’t like a film that is so inextricably linked with race?

I particularly find the all-female remakes weird. My group of friends and colleagues are not all female simply because I am. I feel like this is something that is being forced on cinema goers who will, eventually, turn off to the issue because even something as simple as Ghostbusters is being turned into a feminist crusade.

Yes, Hollywood – like any other workplace – should be a safe place for all its employees to create art. That all is key. Meanwhile, a lot of talent may well be overlooked for fear of upsetting those who clearly spend most of their days venting their vitriol on Twitter. Diversity and equality should be celebrated, and representation is important.

Let’s hope it’s not at the expense of quality.


Mary Palmer
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