Ahead of tonight’s Producers Guild of America Awards, representative producers from the ten nominated movies in the headline Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures category gathered in Hollywood this morning to discuss their respective journeys. Guild president Gary Lucchesi moderated, but it was an audience member who sought comment from the panel on Hollywood’s diversity problem in light of the 2016 Oscar nominations: What should the industry be doing to highlight more diverse voices?
The loud applause, and some awkward few moments of silence that followed, were broken by The Revenant‘s Alejandro González Iñárritu, who praised Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs for the sweep of changes to membership announced yesterday. But, he pointed out, the Oscars represent “the end of the chain,” and real change has to come from the front. Iñárritu said that racial and cultural diversity are what make the U.S. “so admirable, so incredibly vibrant,” adding that “every race is here, and this kind of thing is what makes the power of this country.” However, he said, “Cinema is a mirror by which we often see ourselves… if that power is not transmitted on the screens there’s something wrong.”
“These changes the Academy has made are a great step, but the Academy, in a way all these awards, all these things, is at the end of the chain…. Hopefully these active changes, these positive changes they are taking. Which is definitely to start getting more and more people in TV and film, in entertainment media, in the magazines, in the reviews. The demographic complexity of this country should be reflected not only at the end of the chain, but since the beginning, in order that more of these people can be… integrated… and their stories can be greenlit, that there’s more choices, that there’s more exhibition and distribution of films, that represent all minorities.”
Iñárritu also drew a huge round of applause for pointing out that the diversity issue is “not only about African Americans.” “I want to say how many Latin Americans… what about Native Americans,” he continued, adding that by starting from the beginning of the chain, the recognition and awards “will come to a balance.”
Plan B’s Dede Gardner, who produced Selma and 12 Years a Slave and is nominated tonight for The Big Short, concurred. “It’s on us,” she told the producers in the room. “It starts with us… For 12 Years a Slave we had to make that movie undeniable before we even tried to get it financed, which meant working on a script for five years with Steve McQueen and John Ridley for free, and that meant Brad [Pitt] and Chiwetel [Ejiofor] committed to the movie with no deal. You just have to keep going. Every time someone says no, you keep going.”
The Outstanding Producer award at PGA is expected to confirm a frontrunner for the Academy’s Best Picture prize when the envelope is opened tonight. One movie on the PGA ballot that doesn’t make the Academy’s list is Straight Outta Compton, a key focus for the Oscar controversy. Producer Scott Bernstein stepped in for an absent F. Gary Gray, whose flight was delayed by the East Coast snowstorm. “The flashpoint is at the end when it really should be at the beginning,” he said of the brouhaha. “Movies are inclusive, not exclusive. And I’m not saying the Academy is inclusive or exclusive, [but] it’s something that’s born out of 100 years [of history].”
“We’ve all made movies that reflect the world – all of us up here – and Universal Pictures, New Regency, Lionsgate, they’ve all had the ability to make these films and they chose to make them,” Bernstein continued. “Universal didn’t have to make [Straight Outta Compton], and nobody wanted to make a film about five unknown guys who had this dream and carried it out. Cube said, ‘We didn’t make this film to be nominated. We wanted to tell the story for the world to understand.’ This conversation has begun, and it’s a great conversation for us all to have.”