TIME movies

Why Hollywood’s Diversity Problem Can’t Just Be Solved with Fancy Award Ceremonies and Gold Statues

Noble Johnson
John D. Kisch—Separate Cinema Archive/Getty Images Publicity still of American actor Noble Johnson, 1920

For most of its history, Hollywood has worked hard to identify—and undermine—the work of black actors and filmmakers

History News Network

This post is in partnership with the History News Network, the website that puts the news into historical perspective. The article below was originally published at HNN.

Last Sunday’s Oscars have once again renewed debates over Hollywood’s diversity problem. “Not surprising that an organization who’s 94% White & 77% Male doesn’t recognize diverse talent,” one critic tweeted before the ceremony, using the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag that first trended last month, after the Academy announced its all-white list of nominees for best actor and actress, and snubbed director Ava DuVernay. Meanwhile, supporters of Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu, who won for Best Director and Best Picture, argued that Hollywood was at least making progress. Iñárritu’s awards proved “compelling stories can be told by diverse talent,” Jack Rico wrote on NBC’s website the following day.

But recognizing black, Latino, and Asian talent has never been Hollywood’s problem. Hollywood has seldom overlooked the abilities of promising non-white filmmakers. In fact, for most of its history, Hollywood has worked hard to identify—and undermine—their work, which has been more detrimental to African American film than any Oscar snub. Keen to maintain its control over global film production, Hollywood wielded its political connections and economic might to establish systems that prevented independent black filmmakers from distributing their movies. When black filmmakers overcame these challenges, Hollywood responded by co-opting black cinema’s most marketable genres and directly competing with independent black film producers.

This history reaches back more than a century. When members of the first cohort of powerful American film producers, the Motion Picture Patents Company (MPPC),built up a national film market, they avoided offending their white audiences and censors in the South. That meant blacks wouldn’t be treated as equals either behind the camera or onscreen. Hollywood’s early producers were not members of the MPPC, but they gladly embraced and eventually strengthened these business policies as they battled their way to the top. When the first Hollywood blockbuster, Birth of a Nation debuted–a hundred years ago this month–Hollywood was already unmistakably invested in pleasing its white audiences at the expense of African Americans.

Fortunately, African Americans had their own cinema. It’s a little known fact, but long before the rise of Hollywood or better-known black filmmakers like Oscar Micheaux, black men and women began producing their own films. They developed sophisticated editing techniques, and invented new technologies for exhibiting motion pictures. In my book Envisioning Freedom: Cinema and the Building of Modern Black Life I describe how African Americans such as Harry A. Royston toured the country in the 1890s with film exhibitions “put together to please a colored audience.” Just a few years later, filmmakers like Mr. and Mrs. Conley, and William G. Hynes produced motion pictures about black progress. These pioneers of black cinema were the children of former slaves, or were born into slavery themselves. Their motion pictures broadcast ideas about black progress and raised money for black churches and other institutions dedicated to the mission of “racial uplift.” By the early 1900s, African American film could be found throughout the country.

Hollywood studios were suspicious of any threat to their markets. With few exceptions, early Hollywood producers were unwilling to invest in black film, but they still wanted to lock out any competition. To do so, Hollywood played dirty. Hollywood studios forced theaters that wanted the screen their films into “block booking,” which meant the theater could only screen films by their production houses. Later, the big players, including Paramount, Universal, and Fox, directly purchased their own theaters and conspired to corner the market by marginalizing the opportunities of independent producers to distribute their pictures, and by closing in on profits of “second run” theaters–the only places that exhibited independent black films.

Independent black filmmakers continued to produce movies, but found themselves boxed in. To grow into an industry that could produce big-budget, feature films, black filmmakers would need bigger distribution markets. But as Hollywood tightened its grip on the channels of film distribution, filmmakers like Oscar Micheaux found it impossible to place their movies in enough theaters to earn back their money. The Supreme Court eventually ruled that Hollywood’s monopolistic practices violated US antitrust laws, but not before hundreds of independent black film companies had been destroyed.

In other cases, Hollywood muscled out black independents by making their most bankable actors sign non-competition agreements. In 1917, Noble Johnson, an African American actor who played Native American, Latino, and Asian characters in Hollywood movies, co-founded the Lincoln Motion Picture Company. He produced and starred in three films before Universal demanded he disassociate himself from Lincoln Pictures or never work for Universal again. Johnson, who relied on his earnings from Universal to help finance his venture with Lincoln, had little choice but to resign. As the Lincoln Picture’s main draw, Johnson’s departure sounded a death knell to the company.

Despite the challenges that independent black producers faced, they proved there was a market for “race films.” Hollywood producers, having established a national (white) market for their films, began paying attention to the audiences they had ignored for decades. In the late 1920s, a growing number of Hollywood studios began producing “race films”; others toned down the virulent racism in their own films, and replaced white actors in blackface makeup with more African American performers. When the Great Depression hit, Hollywood, strapped for profits, doubled down on its efforts to woo over black audiences. The industry was still unwilling to offend the South, but after decades excluding African Americans actors, Hollywood producers could pitch featured roles as maids and butlers as “progress.” The 1939 film Gone with the Wind, and black actress Hattie McDaniel’s Academy award an Oscar for best supporting actress, exemplified Hollywood’s new inclusivity.

Hollywood’s strategies in Mexico haven’t been all that different from its efforts to squelch independent black film in the US. From World War I, when US films first came to dominate Mexico’s film markets, to NAFTA, the industry has relied on its powerful lobbies, tactics like block booking, and the recruitment of talented Mexican actors and filmmakers to work on Hollywood films. None of this, of course, is any secret. “Freed of fences and trade spikes, more folks in foreign countries will want to buy what Americans make and market,” Jack Valenti, former president and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPPA) wrote in support of NAFTA in 1993. Today, Hollywood controls about 90% of Mexico’s box office.

Without a doubt, Hollywood has a diversity problem, but one that can’t just be solved with fancy award ceremonies and gold statues. Above all, Hollywood is an industry motivated by profits, with a century-long history of aggressive and monopolistic business practices. So next time the Academy hands out its awards, we should remember to ask ourselves–who’s really winning the prize?

Cara Caddoo is the author of “Envisioning Freedom: Cinema and the Building of Modern Black Life (Harvard University Press, 2014). She teaches at Indiana University, Bloomington.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 27

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Hollywood is less diverse than its audiences — and it might be hurting the bottom line.

By Austin Siegemund-Broka in the Hollywood Reporter

2. Facebook’s new suicide prevention tools finally get it right.

By Ashley Feinberg in Gizmodo

3. How will we understand the power of the bacteria in our bodies? Meet the crowdsourced American Gut project.

By American Gut

4. The road to artificial intelligence begins with computers mastering video games like a human being in the 80s.

By Rebecca Morelle at BBC News

5. Salting roads and plowing snow is inefficient and costly. A smart algorithm can save cities millions.

By Marcus Woo in Wired

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 25

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. The U.S. wants to hack your phone because it doesn’t have the real spies it needs.

By Patrick G. Eddington at Reuters

2. Eight universities account for half of all history professors in the U.S. How did that happen?

By Joel Warner and Aaron Clauset in Slate

3. Bill Gates is investing in low-tech impact entrepreneurs in India.

By David Bank in Entrepreneur

4. “Liquid biopsy” can detect cancer from a few drops of blood.

By Michael Standaert in MIT Technology Review

5. Let’s build the infrastructure to make microfinance institutions into true innovation hubs.

By Jessica Collier in Medium

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 20

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Hollywood’s diversity problem goes beyond “Selma.” Asian and Latino stories and faces are missing.

By Jose Antonio Vargas and Janet Yang in the Los Angeles Times

2. Shifting the narrative away from religion is key to defeating ISIS.

By Dean Obeidallah in the Daily Beast

3. Innovation alone won’t fix social problems.

By Amanda Moore McBride and Eric Mlyn in the Chronicle of Higher Education

4. When the Ebola epidemic closed schools in Sierra Leone, radio stepped in to fill the void.

By Linda Poon at National Public Radio

5. The racial wealth gap we hardly talk about? Retirement.

By Jonnelle Marte in the Washington Post

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 22

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Want to improve your bottom line? Diversify your workplace.

By Joann S. Lublin in the Wall Street Journal

2. Journalism shouldn’t be a transaction for communities. A local news lab can make it transformational.

By Josh Stearns in Medium

3. The spike of hysteria about artificial intelligence could threaten valuable research.

By Erik Sofge in Popular Science

4. A new vision for securing work and protecting jobs can ensure stability in the face of rising automation.

By Guy Ryder at the World Economic Forum

5. Purchasing carbon offsets is easy. With carbon ‘insetting,’ a business folds sustainable decisions into the supply chain.

By Tim Smedley in the Guardian

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Companies

Intel Pledges $300 Million to Boost Diversity

Krzanich, CEO of Intel, talks about the company's RealSense camera technology at his keynote at the International Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas
Rick Wilking—REUTERS Brian Krzanich, CEO of Intel, talks about the company's RealSense camera technology at his keynote at the International Consumer Electronics show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada January 6, 2015.

The tech giant also aims to increase the minority population in its workforce by 14%

Intel announced Tuesday that it will set aside $300 million to promote diversity within its ranks, aimed at combating criticism often leveled at a technology industry mainly comprised of white and Asian men.

The computer chip manufacturer also announced a plan to raise the population of women, blacks, Hispanics and other minority groups by 14% over the next five years, the New York Times reported.

“This is the right time to make a bold statement,” Intel CEO Brian Krzanich told the Times. Krzanich announced the plan at the ongoing International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

[NYT]

TIME Tech

Watch Samsung’s Rap Video About Corporate Diversity — It’s Just as Bizarre as It Sounds

The tech giant hired Korean rapper Mad Clown to do the honors

Tech giant Samsung announced its sustainability report just the way that a tech giant should: By hiring a Korean rapper named Mad Clown to rap about it.

No, this is not a spoof.

Lyrics include:

Samsung we two hundred
Eighty thousand humans
Forty percent of 100
Twelve thousand women
That don’t have to worry
After giving birth
Sit back, relax, no need to work

Translation: 40% of Samsung’s 280,000 employees are women. Parental leave policies are illin’.

Sure, this outreach method may be a little quirky, but it’s better than Samsung’s past PR gaffes — like that kinda sexist Galaxy S4 Broadway spectacular launch event at Radio City Music Hall last year. And who can forget that quickly yanked ad that made light of abusing puppies?

In fact, we’re kind of hoping that one of Samsung’s competitors will challenge Samsung to a rap battle. Dare to dream.

[H/t The Verge]

TIME england

How English Soccer Could Take a Page from American Football’s Playbook

Manager Chris Powell during a Huddersfield Town home game on Oct. 21, 2014 in Huddersfield, England.
Gareth Copley—Getty Images Manager Chris Powell during a Huddersfield Town home game on Oct. 21, 2014 in Huddersfield, England.

Advocates look to NFL to address racial disparity in coaching ranks

It’s not often that England’s football clubs look across the Atlantic for answers, but a new report suggests doing just that. Ethnic Minorities and Coaching in Elite-Level Football in England: A Call to Action, launched on Nov. 10, highlights a glaring whiteness in the upper echelons of management at England’s 92 professional football clubs. There are just two black or mixed race managers in English football, Chris Powell at Huddersfield and Keith Curle at Carlisle, and although as many as 30% of players come from minority ethnic backgrounds, only 3.4% of top coaches—13 of the 552 individuals employed running first teams, developing young talent and in other, similarly key roles—are non-white. The report holds up the National Football League’s Rooney Rule as a possible way to redress than imbalance.

The procedure—nothing to do with Manchester United and England player Wayne Rooney, but named after Dan Rooney, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers who helped to formulate the rule and get the NFL to adopt it—requires all NFL teams to interview at least one black or minority ethnic candidate for any head coach and general manager vacancy. In 2003 when the rule came into force, only 6% of NFL head coaches were of black or minority ethnic heritage. Within three years, the proportion had risen to 22%. This has not been the only bonus, says Piara Powar, executive director of Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE), co-publisher of the report. “The research from the U.S. tells us that if you implement the Rooney Rule, which is in essence about putting capable and qualified people in front of the people doing the recruiting, that opens up the system even to capable white coaches who might be excluded.”

English football recruitment lacks transparency. Positions are rarely openly advertised and often work through existing contacts. Jason Roberts, a former elite footballer and founder of the Sports People’s Think Tank, joint publisher of the report with FARE, told the British Sunday newspaper, the Observer, that he believes this system allows racist assumptions to go unchallenged. “It starts when black players are characterized by their athletic ability. You will not hear a black player referred to in the same sentence as the words ‘intelligent’, or ‘technique’. It’s always power and pace. This narrative goes right the way through. We’ve seen it in the past – ‘black players are not good in the cold’, ‘not good at certain positions.’ You can see how the decision-makers look at it and say: ‘Well, he’s just not the type.’”

Other prominent non-white figures in English football have expressed skepticism that a Rooney Rule would work in the English context. The former England striker Les Ferdinand doubted that clubs would open up their interviewing process sufficiently. Carlisle’s Curle fears black candidates might be called in “just to tick a box.” Researchers, who spoke to Rooney and many other key figures in the NFL in compiling the report, did encounter similar worries in the U.S., says Powar, but overall the feedback was positive. “There are always suspicions that some people are being interviewed for the sake of it, that some franchises could do more, but in the end this one mechanism has led to a very clear change of the type we want to see here.”

FARE will be publishing more research later this year that surveys the situation across Europe. France and the Netherlands both do better than the U.K., says Powar, who has already seen some of the data. He argues that this represents “a bigger failure” by the English game because “English football is the wealthiest in the world; we have the biggest TV deals here; we have the most international league; the brands are bigger and they’re more well known across the rest of the world.”

Richard Bates of the anti-racism organization Kick It Out sees another problem in English football’s monotone appearance. There has been significant progress in combating racism on the playing field and in the stands, and in that respect “English football is certainly further ahead than a lot of countries on the Continent”. But, he says, the delay in mirroring the diversity of players and fans in football’s board rooms and back rooms risks undermining those advances. “The more diverse the game becomes off the pitch, the more aware people will become in terms of those who watch the game of the need to be fully inclusive.”

Bates argues that not only the football clubs but the governing bodies in English football, in particular the Football Association (FA), the Premier League and the Football League, need to spearhead the drive for better diversity. If so, these bodies should make a start by looking at themselves. Research undertaken for the report shows that a mere 1% of administrators in English football are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. In October 2013, Heather Rabbatts, simultaneously the only black and only female board member of the FA, made public a letter criticising her own organization after a commission it set up to look at ways of improving the performance of the England team in a spectacular own goal failed to include any black or female members.

England last lifted the World Cup in 1966. Rabbatts pointed out that Andros Townsend, a black player, had just helped England towards qualifying for the 2014 World Cup tournament in Brazil. “It is therefore particularly ironic that a commission to look at the national team has been formed with absolutely no representation from the black and ethnic minority communities, many of whom play such an important role at every level of our game.”

TIME technology

Racially Diverse Emoji Are Finally Coming to Your iPhone

The first black Emoji will come June 2015

There are 59 different types of food Emoji, but the pictorial smartphone language has been severely lacking in other areas—specifically when it comes to racial diversity.

To address the continuous stream of poop emojis being flung its way for not providing a single black emoji, developer Unicode announced a range of new skin tones Tuesday that will be available in its Unicode Version 8.0 launch in June 2015.

Here is a sampling of the new color options:

The coding indicates that any Emoji can be portrayed with a different skin tone:

“People all over the world want to have emoji that reflect more human diversity, especially for skin tone,” the organization’s report reads. “The Unicode emoji characters for people and body parts are meant to be generic, yet following the precedents set by the original Japanese carrier images, they are often shown with a light skin tone instead of a more generic (inhuman) appearance, such as a yellow/orange color or a silhouette.”

Unicode Version 8.0 is adding 5 symbol modifier characters that provide for a range of skin tones for human emoji. These characters are based on the six tones of the Fitzpatrick scale, a recognized standard for dermatology (there are many examples of this scale online, such as FitzpatrickSkinType.pdf). The exact shades may vary between implementations.

This marks a significant improvement upon the racial stereotypes exhibited previously in the Emoji’s original language:

iPhone Screengrab

Read next: President Obama Is Reaching Out to Millennials About the Economy Using…Emoji

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 31

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. “Informal economies are the world’s biggest opportunity for design research, and yet we walk right by them every day.”

By Steve Daniels in Medium

2. Surprisingly, some of the nation’s leading technology enthusiasts are worried that artificial intelligence could be more dangerous than we realize.

By Michael Howard in Esquire

3. If we want diverse stories in our literature, we must commit to enhancing diversity in our education programs.

By Hope Wabuke in the Root

4. Poor dental care — from lack of health coverage or lack of dentists — is a serious health risk. But bad teeth also lock in class inequality.

By Sarah Smarsh in Aeon

5. Let’s innovate against ISIS: Investing in entrepreneurs as well as airstrikes can build a culture stronger than terrorism.

By Toni Verstandig in the Huffington Post

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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