The Multi-Ethnic Media Coalition has launched an initiative to diversify the film industry, much, as it claims, it helped diversify the TV industry. The group — comprised of the NAACP, the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition, the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, American Indians in Film & Television and National Hispanic Media Coalition — said during a press conference today in Pasadena that it intends to make its case in meetings with reps from the six major studios: Fox, Universal, Disney, Sony, Paramount and Warner Bros.
“They may not welcome us,” Alex Nogales, president and CEO of the NHMC, said of the studio bosses, “but we don’t care. This is a business. If they want our business, they have to include us.”
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Nogales said the coalition has not formally met with studio reps, but in informal settings, he said they have been “patronizing.” He added, “They are willing to say the right things, but when you walk out of the room, nothing happens.”
The coalition already meets with network executives, collects data and issues annual report cards on minority hiring in the TV industry. Guy Aoki, founding president of Media Action Network for Asian Americans, said he hopes the film industry will be as receptive to the coalition’s input as the TV industry has, noting the strides Asian-American actors have been making on the small screen.
The NAACP is also part of the coalition but did not have a rep at today’s presser as it is prepping for its annual Image Awards gala Friday night.
“Clearly, changes in the makeup of the voting members of the Academy address only part of the problem,” said Pacific American Media Coalition co-chair Daniel Mayeda about the film Academy’s recent push to diversify. “First, actors of color are too often deprived of roles that are written as ethnically specific, or that are based on real people of color.”
He noted that Jennifer Connolly won an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind for her portrayal of a woman who in real life was from El Salvador. “That was an Oscar-worthy role,” he said, “and it should have gone to a Latina actress.” He also pointed out that Ben Affleck, who directed the Oscar-winning Argo, could have cast a Latino to play the leading role of Tony Mendez, but “instead he took the part himself.” He also criticized the casting of Emma Stone to play a half-Hawaiian/Chinese American character last year in Aloha.
“Unfortunately, these are not isolated instances,” he said. “It is a fact that twice as many white actresses have won Oscars playing Asian characters, as Asian American actresses have won playing Asian characters. This whitewashing must stop.”
“We’re not asking for charity,” he told reporters. “We’re saying that the film studios need to catch up to the new global realities. America is changing. Its diverse audiences yearn to see movies that reflect themselves and the changing world around them.”
“The Academy can only vote on works that the movie studios decide to make,” said Daniel Mayeda, co-chair at the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition. “Most of the people who have the power to greenlight films are white. And despite data that proves otherwise, they insist that projects which feature minority casts won’t do well at the box office. Even when making films based on true stories, they often change the characters’ ethnicity to white.”
All agreed that diversity on screen would increase box office receipts for the studios. “It’s not good business to produce films and TV shows that don’t reflect the market,” said UCLA professor Darnell Hunt, whose latest annual report on African Americans in the film industry will be released soon.
Added Sonny Skyhawk, a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and founder of American Indians in Film & Television: “Telling a wider spectrum of stories with more representative faces is good for business. It’s really that simple…It is only when each and every child in this country and beyond can go to the movies and see themselves represented on screen that the industry will have fully realized its financial potential and fulfilled its moral mandate to tell stories that cover the entire human family. Boldness and bravery are required now.”
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