Industry Leaders Create Inclusion through Caricatures; Glamorizing the Exploitation of Diversity

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A lot can be achieved within the span of a movie’s length, but the fathom of questioning representation through movements including Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and Time’s Up amongst the fear of cancel culture means it seems like entertainment is no longer prioritized as Hollywood’s main achievement. As far as the film industry goes, it is fair to state that the West’s film culture, for as long as it’s been thriving, has dominantly been a force conducted by white people. Thus there is no surprise that in recent years the spotlight has had to atone to a more diversified audience. I mean, since when was xenophobia cool unless it’s to make fun of western culture itself? 

After all, Hollywood’s idea of a clever roar only comes from outraged socialists who lost to an orange, but if an orange who’s been indicted four times is capable of re-running for president in this age of cancel culture, then anything is possible. It is clear that the UK’s film industry and Hollywood are an equal exchange of talent and industry: from across the pond on to its screens it’s evident that, between these two industries, the voices of the underrepresented are beginning to demand change. 

In this war for development, industries have no choice but to call for the surrender of their money-hungry soldiers; but how these industry giants choose to rebuild from their destruction is approached differently. There’s no reason to claim that diversity has not made itself known on our screens; it may not seem noticeable to the naked eye, but our idea of diversity is not as diversified as we thought. 

Stock image: Markus Winkler

A creator’s intention in film is to leave a lasting impact on an audience, therefore many are beginning to argue about how the UK handles diversity on its screens. The Hollywood buzz for black actors and their talent made headlines on tabloids after the scandal of the 2016 Oscars and its infamous #OscarsSoWhite. Since then, leader of the research efforts at USC Dr Stacy L Smith has revealed that media’s performative activism has increased recognition for diversity, having gone up from 8% to 17%. 

With the fear of cancel culture lurking in the industry eye, many studios have been taking precaution with the use of popcorn movies. Viola Davis famously said in her Emmy speech “[y]ou cannot win an Emmy for a role that is simply not there” and many actors of color in the UK have expressed that, though opportunity may seem to be growing in terms of visibility, it is not an indication of the complexity of storytelling. 

Back in February of 2021, the BBC announced a Diversity and Inclusion Plan, suggesting “greater diverse representation” on screen. Yes, it is plausible to see Hollywood classics being adapted like Death on the Nile, with a cast diverse enough so that they are actually capable of getting nominated for tokenism rather than talent. To say the least, anti-woke can still pry that the murder remained white in the remake and – even better – the recently canceled Armie Hammer was one of them! 

At least I Think I Love my Wife was made before The Oscars ‘Diversity Requirement’ checklist; suffice to say this step of diversity has also given rise to a cinematic generation of tokenism. With the thirteenth regeneration of BBC’s Doctor Who becoming female, many fans anticipated an exciting change, but it seems audience reviews have undergone their own generational trauma; the show has undergone a struggle to keep up with the poor ratings over its failure to deliver strong narratives and characters in favor of tokenism. 

In a recent season they had introduced an LGBTQ+ character that was killed off in a matter of minutes. With words thoughtlessly being thrown around like “black,” “lesbian” or “woman”, actors from the UK have found themselves in a position to move to the US not because they were not able to get any roles, but in hopes of a role that would better represent them. Big names in the UK’s film industry like Idris Elba, Sophie Okonedo, Daniel Kaluuya are just a few of the many talents that have moved to the US hoping they will receive a larger range of roles than the stock types they have been presented with in the UK. 

Elba delivered a speech for the UK parliament and mentioned how actors that are underrepresented are auditioned as the side and stereotyped characters often placed in boxes; “audiences don’t want to see caricatures.” According to the BFI, “UK films featuring casts with the most black actors tend to revolve around stereotypical subjects.” It is no surprise that the reason for this is the lack of opportunity minorities are presented with from behind the screen. Stories about underrepresented people are being told by the represented, which does not get to the root of solving the issue of misrepresentation and overall enhancing racist ideology. 

At this year’s Cannes film festival, the French Minister of Culture Rima Abdul-Malak took to the stage to tackle France’s diversifying film culture and the rise of political turbulence within the film industry. 

There is no surprise that historically French cinema has refused to directly acknowledge its historical discrimination but Cineuropa reported, through an interview with Rima, France’s latest aim to promote the Grande Fabrique de l’image (The Great Image Factory) initiative. This seeks to attract a more international audience, with 175 selected film and animation projects that will be produced across 12 regions within mainland and overseas ‘departments’ of France. 

The initiative’s plan is to support young cinefiles with emphasis on education, studio investment, and challenging the taboos of industry prejudice. Rima expresses the constant political and cultural collision within the film industry, as in fact the Cannes Film Festival itself was a response to France’s outrage towards Nazi and fascist propaganda being held in the Venice Film Festival. Rima mentions in Cineuropa’s article that “Cultural policy is tied to democracy in France and the film industry as well and Cannes is a prime example of that.”

The Minister took precaution of the familiar narrative occurring in England and was not shy to express how the new initiative is planning to invest in training institutions in order to “[s]top them from fleeing to the USA, which is what happened with animation!”

Unlike the tactic in the UK, the Minister’s hope for diversity in French film is to strive away from quotas. Rima publicly shares her Arab and Lebanese roots, but she does not want to be defined by that alone. Unlike the UK, France’s new initiative displays leniency towards the US who take a social approach. With the goal of becoming more individualistic in terms of stronger character development, rather than conforming towards a generalized characterisation of ethnicity. 

European cinema continues to reject the tenants of its competitor Hollywood for its own artistic style, which is under threat by mainstream popcorn cinema. It is integral to recognize the developing threat of tokenistic storytelling. Though the US is no stranger to endorsing and advertising these harmful trends, it is down to the leaders of European cinema to ensure that it continues to embrace its introspective approach.

The film industry is ever evolving, with change happening at such a rapid pace it is clear that the industry seeks to develop diverse opportunities, which means it is inevitable for it to go in a unanimous direction. The major danger of the industry is not only in the hands of creators, but in the society that permits the actions of a writer’s freedom. The Western World was, is, and will continue to be a major influence on society. After all, it is the creator’s obligation to tell a story that not only touches the lives of the viewer, but to ensure that the beauty of diversity in the West does not homogenize into an unrecognizable murk.

by Ariel and Isabel Roth

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