Hollywood’s Color Conundrum

Kyle Varellie, Contributing Writer

In 1895, the Lumière brothers had the first film screening shot on black and white film. In 1940, Gone with the Wind won the Oscar for Best Motion Picture and it made history being the first full color film to win Best Picture. In 2016, Hollywood still has full color films, but it lacks color off screen.

For the second year in a row, all the Academy Award acting nominations went to white actors and many took notice. High profile celebrities like Spike Lee, Idris Elba, Don Cheadle, and Jada and Will Smith boycotted this year’s Oscars ceremony in protest of lack of diversity among nominees. But diversity is not a new issue in Hollywood. The first black female actress to win the Oscar for best actress in a leading role was Halle Berry in 2001. The Academy was formed in 1927, so it took the Academy 74 years to give a black actress the Oscar for best actress in a leading role. I’ll say it again; 74 years. And she is the only black women to ever win an Oscar in that category. The Academy is however making strides to add diversity to its membership who is 94 % white and 77 % male. On January 22nd, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, announced a proposal to double the membership of minority and women voters by 2020.

Though the Academy has vowed to add diversity to its membership, Hollywood as an industry has made no such promises. According to 2014 report by the University of California, Los Angeles, 10.5 percent of lead actors were of a minority race and only 7.6 percent of writers were of a minority race. Meanwhile, according the 2014 United States Census Bureau the United States population is made up of 39.7 percent minority races.

Even though few minority actors are casted in Hollywood feature films, many large blockbuster films feature non-white characters, but they are casted by white actors. This long standing tradition in Hollywood is aptly named whitewashing. In films like “The Conqueror” (1956) and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961) famous white actors Mickey Rooney and John Wayne were cast to play Asian men. But whitewashing is not exclusive to classic films. The newly released “Gods of Egypt” (2016) casted Gerard Butler, a white Scottish actor, to play an Egyptian King.

All this evidence begs the question why is there such limited diversity in Hollywood? The answer can be found at the top: the studio executives. A 2015 University of California, Los Angeles study reported that 94 percent of studio heads were white and 100 percent were male. Studio heads control the films that are made each year and few want to take financial risks with films with minority characters and staff, yet they fail to realize the huge potential market. It’s quite simple: a diverse Hollywood is a successful Hollywood.

The issue isn’t complicated or convoluted. The issue shouldn’t be hard to fix. “Gone with the Wind” added color in 1939 and it’s time to bring color back to Hollywood in 2016.