How Hollywood escapes need for diversity: All white historical dramas
By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
The BBC has a new list of must watch movies for 2018. Here are some descriptions.
“1950s London-based fashion designer (Phantom Thread).”
“Standalone movie about Han Solo as a young man (Solo: A Star Wars Movie)”
“16th Century. In this historical drama (Mary, Queen of Scots).”
“The story covers nearly a decade of the 1960s, as Nasa and Armstrong (First Man).”
“ it is 1935 and the magical nanny arrives (Mary Poppins Returns).”
“A 1980s and 90s pop-culture extravaganza (Ready Player One).”
“A Russian ballet dancer who becomes Red Sparrow, the most seductive spy since Mata Hari (Red Sparrow).”
Hollywood and entertainment industries abroad, such as in the UK, have always had a diversity problem. Even as America and the West becomes more diverse, media still lacks diversity. Hollywood “diversity has seen little rise in 10 years,” notes Variety. The “Oscars so white” protests have had little impact. Even when women of color do succeed in Hollywood they paint a picture of a male-dominated culture, including sexual harassment. Salma Hayek’s account is just the tip of the iceberg.
Hollywood knows it has a racism problem. It knows that even as the world is becoming more diverse and there are demands from the public to see movies that depict the life they see on the streets, that inside its narrow nepotistic world there is a “white’s only” worldview that looks more like the 1950s than 2018.
So how to avoid leaving the 1950s? Keep making movies about the 1950s. Make movies about 16th century England. Make movies about spies in the Soviet Union. Make movies with themes that are guaranteed to have an almost all-white cast. If someone says anything about diversity all the producer has to reply is “it’s an accurate historical drama.”
The nostalgia Hollywood has for the past is due to the fact that many of its directors are elderly men. Consider the ages of major directors, producers and insiders such as Ridley Scott (80), Steven Spielberg (71) and George Lucas (73). Of course there are many exceptions, younger directors of Wonder Woman or the new Star Wars.
Period dramas are not the only way to escape the need for diversity. Fantasy and endless movies based on comic books are also a kind of nostalgia. America simply cannot escape the 20th century. It needs the warm comfort of Star Wars or movies like Wonder Woman. It needs a reminder of a past when things were simpler. Although Hollywood poses as being more progressive and left-wing and against Trump, the reality is that Hollywood’s movies and Trump are the same thing. They both keep saying “make America great again,” another movie about the X-Men, another movie about the 1950s. X-Men first appeared in 1963. That is the America they are more comfortable with. Although they make movies about “black history,” such as Selma (2014) or Birth of a Nation (2016) and 12 Years a Slave (2013), these are also nods to the segregated past. The entertainment industry is more comfortable with this segregation, rather than movies about how America looks today. It isn’t really comfortably with black or hispanic actors and actresses playing anything but a “black” role. When possible the industry has done everything it can to remove them and when it does it include them it does it in such a ham-handed stereotypical manner that it can then pretend that it didn’t work.