With the very, very white Oscars night fast approaching, diversity has been the main topic of conversation in entertainment for the past couple months. Of course, the Academy isn't the only monochromatic subset of the industry; opportunities for minorities don't present themselves very often. Though "Hollywood so white" is nothing new or surprising, a new, exhaustive study from USC revealed in depressing numbers just how little diversity there is onscreen. 

In a new Lenny newsletter, SNL cast member Sasheer Zamata (who previously made this great white privilege video) wrote an essay called "On Fixing Hollywood's Diversity Problem." She thinks about the word "diversity" itself, which is an "act of inclusion." Thus, it's not substituting white people for people of color, it's having more people of color included. "I don’t know when this started happening, but some people are using the word diversity to mean 'anyone but white people,'" she writes. "And that’s not what it actually means. If I want to put a diverse group (of anything) together, I would put together a spectrum of varying things. So if we’re talking racially (and we always are), that can include white people." 

She praises the latest Star Wars for casting a woman and a black man as its main characters—both fully developed without making their race or gender the "issue." She also brings the Manohla Dargis-coined "DuVernay Test" (named after Selma director Ava Duvernay), which is the racial Bechdel test (two people of color should be seen talking onscreen without bringing up their race.) 

So how can Hollywood fix its diversity issue? Read her very helpful suggestions below:

1) "You are not diversifying your cast if the only people of color in your production are service workers or criminals. Unless the project is about service workers and criminals. And if that’s the case, make sure the customers or victims aren’t all white so it doesn’t look like you’re using race to make a good-versus-bad or rich-versus-poor comparison."

2) "You are not diversifying your cast if the only people of color in the project fit stereotypical casting descriptions like: sassy, thuggish, urban, street, hood, spicy, fiery, flamboyant, fierce, etc. Not to say that POC shouldn’t embody these types of roles, but if you can’t imagine white people in these same roles, OR if you can’t imagine POC playing any of the roles you’ve cast with white actors, you should reevaluate your script."

3) "If there is at least one person of color in front of the camera, there should be at least one person of color on the creative team, and hopefully they can help ensure the character stays a character and not a caricature. (Ideally, you have more than one person of color in the creative team, because no one person should be responsible for speaking on behalf of their entire race. Also, the one POC you have on the team may not always be woke, so it’s best to have more. Also, look up Effie Brown on  to see an example of why diversity behind the camera is important.)"

4) "Please avoid tokenism, where there is only one person from a certain race and it’s their responsibility to give their opinions on behalf of that whole race. Like if most of this character’s lines start with “Well, in my hood / My crew always / When I’m with the homies, we all …,” and no one else in the movie is talking like that, reevaluate your script."

5) "Please avoid fetishism, where a character is sexualized because of their race. Also, avoid this in life."

6) "If you are doing an artistic representation/homage/biopic of a real person of color who lived and breathed on this planet, you should cast an actor of that same race.

  • What if I can’t find an actor of that same race?
  • Do your casting search again.
  • What if I still can’t find anyone of that race?
  • Do your casting search again.
  • What if I still can’t find anyone of that race?
  • I mean, I want to say do your casting search again, but if you’re really strapped for time, cast a person of color of a different race who looks like that person.
  • But what if I want to cast a white person with ethnic features?
  •  …Did you just say ethnic features?
  • Sorry, I mean, I just really like this one white actor and think they can pull it off.
  • Please reexamine the reason you’re doing the project in the first place. If you are doing it to respect or honor the subject matter’s story, then casting a white person will not do that."

7) Let’s be open to new stories for, and from, POC. I don’t have a problem with revisiting history, but I think we can produce more narratives that aren’t about slavery or about someone fighting to be the first black ______. I definitely don’t want to overlook these stories, because they’re a part of our history and shouldn’t be forgotten, but I’d like to believe that POC in this country have created more stories since slavery and the civil-rights movement that can be expressed in present day or even in the future (like Star Trek!).

Don't miss our roundtable and week-long coverage on Racism on Hollywood.

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