Pop cul­ture in 2010s marked gains in di­ver­sity, in­clu­sion

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - LIFE+TIMES - By Jo­ce­lyn Noveck AP Na­tional Writer

NEW YORK >> When the fam­ily-friendly Hall­mark Chan­nel re­cently pulled, un­der pres­sure from a con­ser­va­tive group, a set of ads fea­tur­ing a kiss be­tween two happy brides at the al­tar, back­lash was swift — to say the least.

Within hours, stars like Ellen De­Generes and Wil­liam Shat­ner were tweet­ing in protest to their many fol­low­ers, and LGBT ad­vo­cates were mo­bi­liz­ing a boy­cott via so­cial me­dia. This was on Satur­day; by Sun­day even­ing, Hall­mark had re­versed its de­ci­sion, and apol­o­gized for what it ac­knowl­edged as a mis­take.

What­ever it says about cor­po­rate mis­steps, the episode also says some­thing about how our pop­u­lar cul­ture has changed in a decade, with di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion con­cerns tak­ing cen­ter stage, says Sarah Kate El­lis, pres­i­dent of GLAAD, which ad­vo­cates for LGBT peo­ple in Hol­ly­wood and played a key role in Hall­mark’s re­ver­sal.

“This decade has been about di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion — at least the start­ing of the con­ver­sa­tion,” says El­lis. “Com­mu­ni­ties who have been left out of the seats at the table for decades and decades are fi­nally start­ing to find their voice, and their foot­ing.” And a ma­jor el­e­ment, ob­vi­ously, is the power of so­cial me­dia: “It en­ables us to con­nect with each other, find each other and or­ga­nize,” El­lis says.

Speak­ing of vi­ral protests, this was also the decade of #Os­carsSoWhit­e, the hash­tag launched by ac­tivist April Reign in 2015 when none of the 20 act­ing nom­i­nees were ac­tors of color. In­cred­i­bly, the same thing hap­pened in 2016, forc­ing the Academy of Mo­tion Pic­ture Arts and Sci­ences to launch a ma­jor mem­ber­ship over­haul aimed at di­ver­si­fy­ing its over­whelm­ingly white, male, older ranks.

The fol­low­ing year, “Moon­light,” about the com­ing-of-age of a gay black man, won best pic­ture (af­ter “La La Land” was ... oh, never mind) and the win­ner list was more di­verse. But true racial di­ver­sity in en­ter­tain­ment re­mains an elu­sive goal, de­spite slow progress.

“Things have cer­tainly im­proved,” says Gil Robert­son, pres­i­dent of the African Amer­i­can Film Crit­ics As­so­ci­a­tion. “Ten years ago, you didn’t have an Ava Du­Ver­nay, a Jor­dan Peele, a Shonda Rhimes, a Kerry Wash­ing­ton,” he says. “And my God, you couldn’t have even imag­ined ‘Pose,’” he says, re­fer­ring to the Ryan Mur­phy TV se­ries set in the ‘80s ball­room cul­ture with the big­gest LGBTQ cast ever as­sem­bled for a scripted show.

“The door has opened,” he says, ad­ding that in­roads have also been made for Asian Amer­i­can ac­tors and sto­ries, but less so for Lati­nos. “Has the in­dus­try reached the place that we want it to be? No, but things have got­ten bet­ter.”

In her speech at the 2018 Os­cars, soon af­ter the Har­vey We­in­stein scan­dal launched the #MeToo era, Frances McDor­mand urged women to de­mand an “in­clu­sion rider” in con­tracts to help achieve gen­der par­ity. Al­most two years later, ev­i­dence of progress for women in front of and be­hind the cam­era is slow but steady. The en­try of stream­ing gi­ants like Net­flix has ac­cel­er­ated the pace of change, says Stacy L. Smith, di­rec­tor of the USC An­nen­berg In­clu­sion Ini­tia­tive at the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

An ex­am­ple: last year, 39 of the top 100 Hol­ly­wood films were led or co-led by a fe­male char­ac­ter, Smith says; in 2007 the num­ber was 20, so it has es­sen­tially dou­bled in a decade. And there is progress be­hind the cam­era, too. “We’re re­ally see­ing changes, slow but real sig­nif­i­cant move­ment in some of th­ese in­sti­tu­tions,” she says.

Progress has also been seen in the mu­sic busi­ness, in di­ver­sity of film crit­ics, and in scripted TV, she says. And yet there are ar­eas sorely lack­ing: rep­re­sen­ta­tion of fe­male char­ac­ters over 40 in films, for ex­am­ple, and women of color. And trans women char­ac­ters are rarely seen in ma­jor films.

“Ev­ery group should be able to see them­selves on­screen,” Smith says.


It’s hard to imag­ine that back in 1997 when De­Generes came out on her TV show, the words “I’m gay” were so ground­break­ing. “We were all but non-ex­is­tent in pop­u­lar cul­ture a few decades ago, and now we’re very much grounded in pop­u­lar cul­ture,” says El­lis, of GLAAD.

While no mile­stone this past decade matches the im­port of that “Ellen” mo­ment, the decade be­gan with the launch — ac­tu­ally in 2009 — of both “Glee,” which put a spot­light on LGBT youth, and “Mod­ern Fam­ily,” which in­tro­duced the cou­ple of Mitchell and Cam, two dads who adopt a Viet­namese daugh­ter. “Th­ese were re­ally big mo­ments,” El­lis says. Another was last year’s bestac­tor Emmy for Billy Porter for “Pose,” the first openly gay black man to win the award.

In­roads also were made in chil­dren’s pro­gram­ming. “Doc McStuffins,” the Dis­ney Ju­nior chil­dren’s car­toon, fea­tured a fam­ily led by an in­ter­ra­cial, les­bian cou­ple, and the Dis­ney Chan­nel kids’ show “Andi Mack” in­tro­duced a key gay char­ac­ter.

And it was only a quick glance be­tween male char­ac­ters, but “Beauty and the Beast” took the plunge and ac­tu­ally showed a gay mo­ment. “It’s a step in the right di­rec­tion,” says El­lis. Can Elsa’s (hoped-for) com­ing-out in the “Frozen” fran­chise be far be­hind?

Cait­lyn Jen­ner’s rev­e­la­tion in 2015 that she was trans­gen­der helped shine a light on that com­mu­nity, and pop­u­lar shows like “Or­ange is the New Black,” “Trans­par­ent” and “Pose” fea­tured trans­gen­der char­ac­ters. TV, though, has been far ahead of film. “The top Hol­ly­wood stu­dios have al­ways been a decade be­hind,” says El­lis. The rea­sons, she says: a years­long de­vel­op­ment pipe­line for movies, the huge bud­gets of big films, and Hol­ly­wood’s fear of break­ing its own com­fort­able for­mu­las. But things are slowly mov­ing.


Amer­ica is in­creas­ingly di­verse. Movie au­di­ences are in­creas­ingly di­verse. And di­verse movies make money, be­cause peo­ple like to see sto­ries and char­ac­ters that re­flect their own lives.

De­spite all this, says Dar­nell Hunt, dean of so­cial sci­ences at UCLA and an au­thor of the an­nual Hol­ly­wood Di­ver­sity Re­por t, progress to­ward racial di­ver­sity in the in­dus­try has been frus­trat­ingly slow, and lag­ging be­hind TV.

In their most re­cent re­port, is­sued in early 2019, the au­thors write that in Hol­ly­wood, “peo­ple of color re­mained un­der­rep­re­sented on ev­ery in­dus­try em­ploy­ment front in 2016-17.”

Looking at the decade as a whole, Hunt notes in an in­ter­view that while TV has reg­is­tered some “no­table progress” both in front of and, to a lesser ex­tent, be­hind the cam­era, there hasn’t been much progress in terms of peo­ple of color in ex­ec­u­tive suites, which are still dom­i­nated by white men. And in movies, the sit­u­a­tion is worse.

“As the coun­try be­comes more di­verse, the un­der­rep­re­sen­ta­tion be­comes more se­vere,” he says.


FILE - This Feb. 26, 2017 file photo shows Barry Jenk­ins and the cast and crew of “Moon­light” ac­cept­ing the award for best pic­ture at the Os­cars in Los An­ge­les.

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