By| Naja Hardmon
The flashing lights, the intoxicating attention, and the flagrant luxuries are just some of the most celebrated rewards that come along with being a star in Hollywood. Many associate Hollywood as the land where stars are born, and so millions of aspiring actors, actresses and names not-yet-known flock to the city of angels to begin their success story. Millions dream and make the trek to the place where things happen in hopes of having their names featured in blazoned lights. Unfortunately, only dozens will. Even more unfortunate is the prospect of a black name being featured. And the most unfortunate of all, is the slim-to-none chance of a black director behind that star’s name.
There is battle going on in Hollywood right now. The battle for diversity. On the forefront are the faces like Lupita Nyong’o, Chadwick Boseman, and Daniel Kaluuya who fight for the roles African Americans have been denied for decades, roles of superheroes and victorious protagonists that until recently were saved for their white counterparts.
But behind the scenes is where the battle is truly fought. In the control room, where the important decisions are made such as how a movie is produced, who will be casted, and how well will the movie portray the black existence is seriously depleted of black representation.
Too many black hopefuls are unaware of this epidemic, and most are too distracted by the current acting issues to really care. For those who have long decided that being in front of the lights is not for them and who just want to call action, know that the road ahead is a long one and change can only come from the inside out.
“I want to act, but I don’t want to be the ghetto black girl, I don’t want to be the slave, I don’t want to be what they want us to be,” said Jazmine Johnson, an aspiring film writer and director at Florida A&M University. “I can’t just act and complain about the stories they give me, I have to create the stories.”
Like Jazmine, others have noticed the slim margin of roles available to black actors and have especially taken note of the lack of recognized black talent among the elite in Hollywood. For the past two years, the trending hashtag #OscarsSoWhite brought awareness to the lack of diversity among Academy Award nominations, and only this past year in 2018 were there several diverse candidates featured.
Of those candidates, Jordan Peele made headlines and history by being the first black filmmaker to be nominated for directing, writing, and producing in the same year, and walk away with the award for best screenplay. He is also the fifth black director ever nominated for Best Director in the 89-year history of the Academy Awards. But of those 5 directors, none have taken home the award.
“The journey has not been easy,” says award-winning producer and director James Bland. “I don’t think anything worth having comes easy. I’ve been in LA pursuing a career in film and television for 10 years now. They say it takes a decade to become an overnight success. I would say that’s been true on my part. I’ve had my share (of) snags and obstacles. I’ve been fighting to be found in the crowd since I first stepped foot in LA.”
Bland is currently working as a producer, director, and actor for the popular web series Giants, a position that certainly came with extensive experience and the classic ingredients of hard work and dedication.
“However, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to create many projects that I’m very proud of. I’m honestly doing exactly what I want to do in life. I’m just working toward bigger budgets and a bigger stage to showcase my work.”
Many share the same dreams and ambitions like Bland, and there are a good few who are climbing the ranks like he is and gaining one success after another. But with the lack of recognition, it is still difficult for black talent to ascend into greater levels within the industry, or even to just break into the industry at all. The challenge lies in ascension, with more black people in charge of granting the opportunities, the better the media will take them and represent black people well.
When discussing the current lack of black representation in executive positions Bland commented, “There are gatekeepers in Hollywood. People in high places who decide what projects get funded. For too long, these gate keepers were predominantly white men. With more black and brown creators helming projects, we’ll be able to control our own narrative and create projects that offers characters and stories that represent the full array of the black experience.”
And he is right. As of 2016, studies upon studies have proven the hard-knock truth of the hard-knock life that aspiring black executives are forced to face when trying to gain better positions. In a study from the Ralph J. Brunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, white males continue to dominate the key player positions that make things happen in Hollywood and are effectively excluding any person of color to join the ranks.
As summed up by Paige Austin at Hollywood Patch, film studio heads were 94 percent white and 100 percent male at the time of the study, film studio management is 92 percent white and 83 percent male, and film studio unit heads are 96 percent white and 61 percent male.
It is no secret that black people in the film industry are underrepresented. It is also widely known that other minorities are fiercely fighting the same battle for their turn of prosperity on the big screen. But the key difference between the fight for the screen and the fight behind the screen, is the amount of exposure the winner receives as the prize.
With the recent success of Black Panther, the world has now seen the benefits of including some black influence on and off the screen. When given the opportunities, brilliant directors like Ryan Coogler can grant the chance for brilliant actors like Michael B. Jordan and Danai Gurira to receive the ovation they were denied for too long.
“There’s never been a better time to be a black creative in Hollywood in my opinion. We’re kicking ass right now. From TV shows like “Atlanta” that just won a Golden Globe for Best Comedy series to Black Panther that is crushing all kind of box office records, we’re currently seeing a resurgence of quality black content from creators of color on the big and small screen. As a result, I believe more opportunities will open up for black content creators,” said Bland.
The main playmakers and most of Hollywood’s key decision makers are directors. The time is coming for some of those key players to step into their rightful platforms and break the barriers that are holding so many back. Hopefully with the recent wave of diversity among the Oscar nominations, more will be convinced of the impact of every demographic being included, and the importance that lies in everyone having the chance to see a bit of themselves represented well.