Watching last week’s Golden Globe Awards, and noting the number of nominations for “Moonlight,” as well as seeing now awards-season-regulars like Denzel Washington, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer (“Fences” and “Hidden Figures”) breaking bread with the Goslings, Streeps, and Afflecks, one may be led to believe that last year’s ugly #OscarsSoWhite controversy is well behind us. And, yes, the awards season’s diversity has indeed come a long way… if you’re African-American.
That’s huge. And overdue. It’s a great change for the better, for all of us. But, according to Merriam-Webster, the word diversity means “the inclusion of different types of people (as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization.” One must reasonably extrapolate that “different types of people” doesn’t mean just black or white. So I can’t help but ask, where were the Hispanics, who after all make up 17% of the overall US population and a quarter of the US theatrical revenues? Where were the Asians, who Hollywood is more-than-eager to woo, most notably for China’s expansive box office (over $6.8 billion in ticket sales in 2015) and investment dollars?
Surely, as Latinos, we ought to have been happy with Sofia Vergara’s notable appearance on the show, despite the over-the-top, slightly racist “anal” joke. One would have hope that humor centered on Hispanics mispronouncing English went out with the Eisenhower era. We should have been pleased that Diego Luna was able to say a few words in Spanish on national television. Two foreign-born, Hispanic actors were called upon for comic relief and to give out awards — but not receive them. Too bad, apparently, the John Leguizamos, Michael Peñas, America Ferreras, Eva Longorias, and Danny Trejos of our industry would do better if they were to affect stereotypical accents. Otherwise, Latino actors are relegated to the sidelines, if not invisible.
Where were the actual Latino nominees in the fancy dresses and tuxedos? Surely, we can’t be waiting for Alfonso Cuarón or Alejandro González Iñárritu to direct another movie before we dare to nominate a Hispanic filmmaker. Surely, it can’t be that the last Hispanic actor to actually win a Best Actor Oscar was Benicio del Toro seventeen long years ago, in 2000? And surely it can’t be that the last time a Latino actor/actress was even invited to the Oscars as an acting nominee was in 2011, when Damian Bichir received a Best Actor nomination for “A Better Life.” According the MPAA, there is an average of 600 films created in the US every year. You don’t need a calculator to clearly see the imbalance.
Then there are the Asians, or, perhaps better said, then there weren’t. Outside of Dev Patel (Lion) and Riz Ahmed (The Night Of), there seemed to be zero other Asians invited to partake of the champagne at the Beverly Hilton this year.
But is this lack of true multiculturalism the fault of either the Hollywood Foreign Press or the Academy? No, it’s not. Those institutions reflect what our industry does, and the truth is that opportunities for Hispanics, both in front and behind the camera, are few and far between.
This is an absurd and perilous disconnect, given the composition of the audience. We, the Hispanics, are taken for granted. We are woefully underrepresented in every movie, in every studio, and in every department, even in the marketing departments, regardless of our being the alpha consumers and the key drivers of many genres. Some socially-aspiring studios have instituted “multicultural departments.” But the bold fact is that they have very little, if any, power, and historically have proven to be inefficient at opening doors or access to jobs for other cultures, and appear to be gate keepers imposing further limitations upon my culture and my people in getting chances in our industry.
It is not good for our film industry’s business to keep ignoring the reality of the consumer. No wonder audiences are migrating to other forms of entertainment, and no wonder we are in a sad, declining and, it pains me to say, decadent moment in our history. It is short-sightedness on the part of our movers and shakers, who may oppose the building of one politically-charged wall, that they themselves have built an invisible wall around the industry that denies access to new blood and new sensitivities. This is a terminal illness for our business and for the relevance of the Academy Awards. Check the ratings: Latinos, the alpha consumers of films, don’t care much about watching the Academy Awards.
Our industry, like our country, was built by immigrants for immigrants. Immigrants made the movies and immigrants filled the nickelodeons, a primary source of surging energy that made America, America and Hollywood, Hollywood. Our industry was not born from a privileged and powerful establishment; it came from immigrants, starting with the Jewish immigrants who invented Hollywood, then bolstered by the Italians, the British, the Germans and so on… each of whom helped provide the mother of all sources of energy for our industry: their cultures. Culture is the source of storytelling, and storytelling is the essential element of our art and industry. Culture matters. It is in fact essential to our industry, and by not opening the doors to a true multicultural cinema we are killing that industry. Just look at the constant drop in admissions. And finding ways to increase revenues by raising the ticket price is bread for today, but hunger for tomorrow. Denying the decline of our industry is just as myopic and foolhardy as denying climate change.
Open the doors to true multiculturalism, not just black and white, not only the establishment, but for all of us. It will regenerate our decaying business and we will all reap the benefits. If not, we have a rapidly diminishing window of time before going to movies becomes irrelevant to the real world. I am optimistic that this change can be made to occur, because the one color that Hollywood unquestionably understands is green.
As an Academy member since 1993, I would like to be surprised this year with some true multicultural presenters at the Oscars show. The Academy holds the key that can offer what the industry has not: the opportunity to be visible. Plant the seeds, my beloved Academy. Start by encouraging the show’s producers to be inclusive in their writing room. Join with the producers in assuring that Latino actors are on the list of possible presenters. By including the Eugenio Derbezes and the Kate del Castillos as presenters, you will see a new flowering business for all and some interesting ratings shifts.
Founder & CEO Arenas Entertainment,
The oldest Hispanic company in Hollywood