EXCLUSIVE: A California congressman who scolded Hollywood this week for what he calls a shocking “lack of diversity in this year’s Oscar nominees” now says he wants Capitol Hill to get involved.
“We could have hearings,” Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-San Fernando Valley) said in an exclusive interview with Deadline. “I would love to have hearings. It’s up to the majority party to decide if we’re going to have hearings, but I am looking forward to working with some of my colleagues to request a hearing.”
After speaking Wednesday at a Writers Guild press conference, where he declared his opposition to the proposed Comcast-Time Warner merger, the first-term congressman talked with Deadline about the letter he sent yesterday to Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs. It read, “I want to work with you to improve diversity in the entertainment industry and in Academy membership.”
Asked if he thinks there’s a role for Congress to play in establishing an acceptable amount of diversity in movies, Cárdenas said: “I think it’s not up to Congress to dictate what the right amount of diversity is, but I think it’s Congress’ place to ask the question, to any industry, in talking about what’s going on out there. Is there a lack of preparation of the community to be ready to be involved in that industry? Is there a bias toward one community or another in any industry, or what have you? And Hollywood is no exception. When you have 20 nominations – 20 names on the nomination list of best actor, supporting actor and actress, etc., and there’s absolutely no representation of color whatsoever, I think that’s a subset of perhaps a bigger problem.”
Does he think there’s a role for Congress in shaping the content of films? “No. I didn’t say that at all,” he asserted. “To me, when it comes to having talent on the screen and behind the camera, etc., that looks like America, I don’t think that’s controlling anything. I think that’s allowing the natural progression to take place.”
Deadline followed up with: “But if you have hearings on diversity, then you’re going to be talking about who’s in the movies and the casting process.”
Replied Cárdenas: “Sure. It would be great for the industry to educate Congress as to how this came about and whether or not this is a natural phenomenon or if this is a biased phenomenon. There is no organic process where you can take a diverse community like America and then distill it down to it only looks monolithic without having some kind of inorganic interplay going on that created that outcome.”
Cardenas might as well have asked why there weren’t any African-American actors nominated for The Theory Of Everything, a film shot in England about a British astrophysicist. Or why there weren’t any Hispanics nominated for The Imitation Game, a movie filmed in England about a British mathematician who breaks the Nazis’ secret Enigma code.
Cárdenas, a former Los Angeles City Councilman who is the first Latino to represent the San Fernando Valley, has been working to place himself in the middle of Hollywood issues since he was elected in 2012. He holds a seat on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee that Henry Waxman once chaired and sat on until his recent retirement. The committee is expected to be near the epicenter of upcoming debates on net neutrality, changes to the Affordable Care Act, energy policy and media consolidation.
But for now, days before the Academy Awards, his focus is trained on Hollywood. And the WGA news conference was a perfect confluence of Hollywood trying to influence Congress and a grandstanding congressman trying to influence Hollywood.
Meanwhile, with Republicans controlling the House and the Senate, there is virtually no chance of any such diversity hearings taking place. So Hollywood probably needn’t worry about Uncle Sam sitting in on casting sessions anytime soon.