How I Feel About Hollywood Right Now
I worked in Hollywood for many years, on both business and creative ends.
- •The Academy, while an important institution in Hollywood, is not responsible for the lack of diversity in the film business.The #OscarsSoWhite controversy does not begin to encapsulate the diversity issue in Hollywood.
- •The problem runs much deeper.Very, very deep.
- •Let's start at the very bottom, with the aspiring filmmaker.There's no clear path to becoming a filmmaker or an artist in any creative field, but it's much easier if you have a support network so you don't have to weather that storm alone. Part of becoming an artist includes years of unpaid work. Now, it's really, really tough for those without family support or independent wealth to pursue these creative fields. Some folks also grow up in environments where their creative aspirations are blocked rather than cultivated.
- •We should also talk about money.This makes a lot of people uncomfortable, but it needs to be said. Folks who come from money often have the financial and emotional support to pursue their artistic ambitions. The opposite is also true: kids who grow up in poorer families don't have access to books, art and culture the same way their more affluent counterparts do. Their families may not value the arts as much. In fact, so often kids growing up in low-income homes are encouraged to pursue pre-professional careers.
- •Education plays another important role in the cultivation of talent.In the case of filmmakers, a graduate degree in film can cost upwards of $100k to attain. Unless one is willing to take out significant loans or has family support, that is a cost many aspiring filmmakers can't bear.
- •That's on the creative end. Now let's look at the business side of film.Talent agencies are the hubs of Hollywood. Agents represent talent (filmmakers, actors, etc) and pitch them for jobs around town. They receive a 10% commission. Not a bad business, right?
- •Wrong. The talent agencies lack diversity themselves.The average starting salary as a mailroom trainee at a top-tier talent agency is $9.25/hour in Los Angeles, a city with one of the highest costs of living in the United States. Spending a year at an agency is often a pre-requisite for development jobs at studios, production companies and networks.
- •What does this mean?It means that on both ends of the spectrum (creative and business), the folks that stand to succeed are increasingly 1) affluent, 2) have emotional/financial support networks in place, 3) grew up in or have family in the industry.
- •This creates a hiring problem.Development execs and producers have limited options in hiring. They also tend to hire creatives they can see succeeding, who they can relate with, and who reminds them of themselves. An overwhelming majority of executives in a position to hire filmmakers are white & male. Overt sexism and racism, for the most part, has gone away. It's subconscious biases ("I could get a beer with this guy" or "he reminds me of Spielberg") that serve to undermine fair & diverse hiring.
- •With a lack of diversity on both ends, fewer films are made with women and persons of color behind the camera.And thus, there are fewer diverse films up for Academy consideration.
- •The Academy is the tip of the iceberg.Diverse voices need to be supported by executives who see value in their experiences and what they have to say. Women and minorities should be encouraged to pursue their artistic ambitions. They should be mentored and given equal access to education that will allow them to succeed in an intensely competitive industry; only then will major change happen.
- •The problem is much greater than the Oscars.The problem is deep & systemic. There is much that has to happen before we see a real shift (of which we're only now seeing the beginning.)
- •But change is coming.The Sundance Institute, Women in Film, Film Fatales, and a plethora of organizations, institutes and individuals are hard at work to make sure that tide does shift.
- •And soon we'll have an Oscars ceremony that fully represents the industry's diverse voices.It's only a matter of time.