OPINION

Alex Nogales: For Oscars diversity, the whole industry needs to do better

HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 02:  A general view of atmosphere is seen during the Oscars held at Hollywood & Highland Center on March 2, 2014 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 02: A general view of atmosphere is seen during the Oscars held at Hollywood & Highland Center on March 2, 2014 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)  (2014 Getty Images)

That this year’s Academy Awards will be “the whitest Oscars since 1998” is not surprising when we consider the lack of diverse membership (94 percent white and 77 percent male) in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), the organization that votes on Oscar nominees and winners.  

But this fact did not make the lack of diversity in this year’s slate of Oscar nominees any less disappointing. In my mind, there was no better film performance than David Oyelowo’s portrayal of Martin Luther King, Jr. in “Selma.” I was sure he would receive a nomination for best lead actor and didn't.

If agents and managers don't tap into places where Latino talent is found, like theaters, then what chances do Latino directors, writers and actors have to advance their careers in film or television?

- Alex Nogales

To its credit, under the leadership of its first black president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the organization has taken steps to diversify its membership. However, making the Oscars and AMPAS reflect the diversity of our nation will not happen overnight and cannot be limited simply to AMPAS — it will require a long-term commitment from all sectors of the entertainment industry.

The reality is that the Oscars’ lack of diversity reflects the entire entertainment industry’s failure to diversify its workforce both in front and back of camera, especially when it comes to Hollywood’s glaring exclusion of Latinos. The Latino community is now 17 percent of the U.S. population and yet only 4.9 percent of characters in films from the last six years were Latino, even though Latinos purchased 25 percent of movie tickets.  

How is this possible, I ask myself. The entertainment industry is located in the home of the nation’s largest Latino population — the Greater Los Angeles area, where 5.8 million American Latinos reside, making up 49 percent of the region’s population; and where innumerable Latino theater companies also call the area home and regularly schedule performances by talented and formidable Latino writers, directors and actors. The Latino talent and expertise is here, I see it, but it is clear that the Hollywood pipeline is still excluding our artists, and that is unacceptable.

What has to happen is for the entire entertainment industry – film studios, television networks, production companies, talent agencies, and even the Academy – to make Latino inclusion an immediate business imperative. The industry needs to take committed efforts to remove the barriers that impede access to opportunities at all levels and all areas in front and behind the camera.

Casting directors, program developers, talent agents, costume designers, marketing managers, advertising leads, business procurement teams, human resources executives — everybody has to change their business model and exclusionary behavior. Talent agencies, particularly, must do a better job of representing and developing Latino talent. If agents and managers don't tap into places where Latino talent is found, like theaters, then what chances do Latino directors, writers and actors have to advance their careers in film or television?

Will Hollywood catch up to reality? Will it do what it takes to integrate its workforce or will it keep paying us lip service and excluding our community while it continues to take our money?

In my mind, the entertainment industry is at a critical juncture. It needs to get the inclusion of people of color right soon, or shed its self-anointed progressive reputation and be labeled what it is: a discriminatory, bigoted industry.

Alex Nogales is president and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, a media advocacy and civil rights organization for the advancement of Latinos.

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