Jada Pinkett Smith (a native Baltimorean) and Spike Lee stirred things up by announcing that they’re boycotting the Academy Awards in protest over the fact that, for the second year in a row, not a single person of color was nominated for any of the acting awards.
To the uninformed, such a protest might seem like sour grapes from coddled movie stars: “Your favorite actors didn’t get nominated, so you’re going to stay home?”
But it’s not just a matter of taste. The Academy represents the industry, and the awards ceremony is a reflection of what the industry considers worthy of immortalization in celluloid (or digital imagery these days). Which stories do people get to see? Who gets to tell them? And who gets to act them out?
While the America that Hollywood portrays has changed dramatically (pun intended), the people answering that set of questions has not. We are less than 30 years away from being a majority minority country, yet over 93 percent of Academy members are white, and 76 percent of them are men. And did you know that minorities purchase a disproportionately large share of movie tickets sold each year?
As trivial as movie making may seem, especially given other social problems we are facing as a nation, it was still appropriate to publicize this issue on the weekend of MLK Day. The movie industry pumps about $50 billion a year into our economy and employs over 300,000 people. The perception of what has value in movies has real economic consequences for a lot of people.
This dynamic has parallels in the public sector, too. We work with school districts and local government agencies all over the country, mostly in urban centers that are rich with diversity. The most enlightened leaders we work with are purposeful about including among their decision-makers a wide array of backgrounds. They’re not inclusive because it looks good to the outside world. Great leaders make better decisions the more points of view they have around them.
Maybe someday Hollywood will make a movie about them. Just don’t hold your breath!