Hollywood: A Look Behind The Camera
Representation of women and people of colour has been drastically improving in the past decade, with it never being better in Hollywood than it is right now. You only have to look at blockbuster successes such as Black Panther, Moonlight and Nomadland. However, this theme is only present in front of the cameras.
In the last ten years, the film industry has made a move to shift to more diversity in roles in front of the camera. This effort has had a significant payoff with some of Hollywoods top leading diverse actors now leading top blockbusters such as Shang Chi’s Simu Lu & Awkwafina, Respect’s’ Jennifer Hudson and many more and that’s just this year alone. However, if you were to peer behind the camera you would be shocked to see a very different story. Hollywood has made many promises over the years some they, unfortunately, haven’t seemed to keep. In fact, a study published in 2020 from the Creative Diversity Network found that diversity behind the camera has been getting worse over time.
The study found that positions such as directors, producers, writers, camera operators and execs are being filled less and less by those who are women, black, Asian or ethnic minority, disabled, transgender or over-50s.
In this week’s article, we will explore the growth (or lack of) that has taken place in regards to diversity behind the camera.
Becoming a director is no easy task, it is made harder however if you are coming from a diverse background.
In 2011, people of colour made up 12.2% of directors of theatrical films. While this has ebbed and flowed over the past ten years, there hasn’t been any substantial growth. In 2019, just 14.4% of directors of theatrical films were people of colour. (Hollywood Diversity Study, 2021)
To look on a more positive note, female directors have seen rather more substantial growth in recent years. Cast your mind back twenty years ago and you would never have dreamed that a woman would be at the helm of a multi-million blockbuster. Now, we are seeing the rise in female-led films, a notable change was the breakthrough of female directors into the male-dominated superhero genre. Both Wonder Woman and The Eternals were led by Patty Jenkins and Chloe Zhao respectively. In 2011 women made up 4.1% of directors, whereas in 2020 this jumped to 16% working on the 100 highest-grossing films of the year. (Hollywood Diversity Study, 2021). This does demonstrate that the industry is changing but perhaps not far or fast enough?
“Although women and different races have made modest gains among the ranks of directors for Hollywood’s top films, both groups still have a long way to go before reaching fair and proportional representation in directing.” (Creative Diversity Network, 2021). It is vital that representation is equal and fair across the board, by bringing in those from diverse backgrounds, different experiences and stories can be brought together to make something truly special.
Writing is another position in Hollywood that has fallen the same way as Directing, maybe even worse? Screenwriters are still your typical white middle-class male. This can feel evident in a lot of films to this day, diversity can feel misunderstood, poorly represented and often shoe-horned in as a nod. This is even noticeable in the global box office sensation Avengers Endgame – a scene is present depicting all of the female cast in one shot – whilst it is great to a plethora of female leading talent, the scene was met with resounding complaints of being added in only to appease women.
Ramone and Hunt highlight in their study that, both people of colour and women have posted meaningful gains since 2015, among the ranks of Hollywood screenwriters.
“After remaining largely stuck under 10% for most of the decade, screenwriters of colour did at least enjoy a larger uptick in the latter half of the 2010s, from 7.8% in 2017 to 13.9% in 2019. The percentage of women writers also grew over the same period, from 12.6% in 2017 to 17.4% in 2019 – but almost all of those women were white.” (Hollywood Diversity Study, 2021)
This does suggest that there is an increase in diversity within the writing. However the sector is still predominately dominated by white males and with the rise of more diverse casts and stories, we need those with the lived experience to be writing these stories. Shows such as Queer as Folk would have not had such a cultural impact if it was not written by a gay man living through the 90’s himself.
Every year we see the same faces for the awards season, often with the same individuals winning year after year. Despite the shift to a more diverse range of faces in Hollywood, multiple categories are still dominated by white individuals.And, although there have been some steps forward such as Chloe Zhao’s win for Nomadland this year, Moonlight winning Best Picture in 2017, and Daniel Kaluuya’s win for best-supporting actor in 2018, the 2020 academy awards made one thing clear – that there is still a long way to go.
However, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon with the 2021 academy awards boasting the most diverse nominations since 2016. And since 2020, a change to the process has been announced, the academy awards are introducing eligibility requirements for the Best Picture award, to “encourage equitable representation on and off the screen to better reflect the diversity of the movie-going audience”. The requirements will only apply to films made in 2024, to be eligible for the awards ceremony the following year and going forwards. We will wait in anticipation for the outcome of these changes.
Across the board, whether we talk about Hollywood, Silicon Valley or FTSE 500 companies, executive positions are still dominated by white men.
“According to the study, 91% of studio heads are white and 82% are male.” Senior management shows a similar picture: “93% white and 80% male”. And while gender equality is balancing out in other C-level positions this is still mostly a white affair. Hunt and Ramón note that these figures are “a slight improvement” over figures from the 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report, when studio heads, for example, were 100% male. (Hollywood Diversity Study, 2021)
The industry has come a long way in the last decade, especially in front of the camera. Audiences desire to see a more inclusive cast and script have pushed Hollywood into rethinking how they make movies, who leads their movies and how they tell their stories.
The diversity seen on screen today is wonderful to see, however, we can no longer continue to ignore the lack of diversity behind the camera. As Ramone and Hunt argue “It’s as if the White men dominating Hollywood have opted to pursue a strategy of trying to appease the increasingly diverse market rather than tackling the issue head-on.”