“The biggest star to take the stage during the Academy Awards arguably was the #OscarsSoWhite controversy as Chris Rock hammered home Hollywood’s diversity issues during the three-plus-hour telecast. But now that the curtain has closed, the question becomes how the industry will avoid a repeat.
The wheels already might be in motion: Since the Oscar nominations were announced Jan. 14, a slew of diverse stories and color-blind castings have gained momentum. Newly announced projects include the young Barack Obama movie Barry and Disney’s immigrant story Dr. Q. (Those come on the heels of the record-breaking $17.5 million Sundance deal for Nate Parker’s slave drama The Birth of a Nation).
“There’s definitely a big conversation taking place right now in our business,” says Management 360 partner Darin Friedman. “From both the filmmaker side and the buyer side, there’s a push for more diverse stories. It’s happening in a genuine way: an understanding that the cast or the directors who get hired should reflect the way the world looks.”
Plus, it pays to be inclusive. A Feb. 25 UCLA study revealed that films and TV shows that reflect the diversity of America on average draw higher ratings and the highest median global box-office receipts.
TV has been far more progressive than film when it comes to diverse stories and castings, but the latest pilot season reflects even higher demand with color-blind castings (like Persian-American actress Sarah Shahi as the star of CBS’ Nancy Drew series, Drew). And after the success of Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat, there are more family comedies in the works, including ABC’s The Fluffy Shop, based on the life of Hispanic comedian Gabriel Iglesias, and NBC’s Marlon, starring Marlon Wayans.
Now the film industry is following suit. J.J. Abrams’ production company Bad Robot has teamed with its agency, CAA, and studio partners to require that women and people of color are submitted for writing, directing and acting jobs in proportion to their representation in the U.S. population.
“The Oscars controversy was a wake-up call to examine our role in expanding opportunities internally at Bad Robot and externally with our content and partners,” says Abrams, who produces the Star Wars and Star Trek movie franchises along with the TV series Person of Interest and Hulu’s miniseries 11.22.63.
“It’s good for audiences, and it’s good for the bottom line…”