Editor’s Note: Rashad Robinson is president of racial-justice organization Color of Change. Founded in 2005, it has more than 7 million members. Last year, it collaborated with actor and producer Michael B. Jordan to create #ChangeHollywood, an initiative that aims to offer tangible ways to invest in anti-racist content and authentic Black stories, invest in Black talent and reinvest police funds to support Black communities. In a guest column ahead of Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards, Robinson weighs in on the need for widespread industry change.
This week we are reminded that Hollywood, despite its calls for diversity and social change, continues to reinforce systems that overlook Black people’s creative luminosity in favor of the status quo. After the Golden Globe nominations and egregious snubs of Black creators and actors, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the group responsible for choosing honorees, confirmed that it has zero Black members.
The dearth of representation for Black people in these institutions should be shocking, but we know it’s all too common despite the industry’s recent overtures toward diversity and inclusion. This is not the only barrier. Recent media reports including most recently in the Los Angeles Times show the pay-to-play tactics some studios employ to lift the award prospects of their programs, to the detriment of others that lack the resources. The playing field is deeply unequal, particularly for creators of color.
After we all witnessed the horrible killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the worldwide protests that erupted in their wake, corporations and industries spent millions of dollars signaling to Black people and our allies that racial inequities exist and that they need to be addressed. Hollywood was no exception. After years of Black creatives trying to ring the alarm, change seemed possible. Calls for unity and transformation poured out from networks and celebrities alike, generating hope that Hollywood would soon address its own systemic issues. Despite the momentum and a year of particularly brilliant work by Black creatives, little has shifted. Removing barriers for Black people to produce and share content must be accompanied by Black people being rewarded for success — in terms of pay equity and credit, and yes, awards.
Demands for Hollywood to address its racism aren’t new. For years, artists, producers and advocacy groups have called on the entertainment industry to address the racial disparities that prevent Black creatives from being appropriately acknowledged for their contributions to Hollywood. Now is the time for Hollywood to reflect on and rebuild its systems so that they value Black creatives, not as evidence of equitable representation but as storytellers with work that will continue to shape and change the world.
These racial inequities are apparent in many aspects of the entertainment industry, but a major pain point is the inadequate representation in awards circles. Black writers, filmmakers, producers and artists are creating some of the most riveting, important and dynamic content in Hollywood today. Shows like Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You and brilliant performances like Jurnee Smollett in Lovecraft Country, Zendaya in Euphoria or Uzo Aduba in Mrs. America being shut out of Golden Globe nominations is an overt signal of value within the academies that are the gatekeepers of the industry. When Black talent is excluded from awards, they aren’t just being overlooked, they are being sent the message that their brilliant work simply cannot compete with narratives that privilege mostly white, conventional stories and lives.
These snubs are not just superficial, they have pervasive repercussions. All awards voters have a bias for certain kinds of stories and productions, but Hollywood institutions like the Golden Globes have consistently sent the message that there are different rules and higher standards for Black people. Nominations bring greater opportunities for creation, collaboration and funding — essentially deciding what stories viewers see more or less of, which creators and crews are employed and who gains entry into these governing bodies. They also elevate work and can introduce new narratives and storytellers to the world.
Many key players in Hollywood have acknowledged that more Black writers, Black production teams and Black casts are essential in promoting more accurate depictions of Black characters and more holistic Black stories, but still don’t give them the acknowledgement they deserve. This is simply unfair and unacceptable, and suggests past calls for racial equity have been performative. We need the institutions within the industry to challenge their own norms, to be transparent about their staff and crew diversity and to not rely on changing only when well-known industry secrets, like the exclusion of Black people in HFPA, are made public.
At Color of Change, we are working to create and raise industry standards that go beyond tokenized hiring or marginal representation. Last year we launched a new initiative with Michael B. Jordan called #ChangeHollywood. This initiative answers the call for action with infrastructure that will create concrete, measurable solutions towards racial justice. We are creating tangible ways to invest in anti-racist content and authentic Black stories, invest in Black talent, and reinvest police funds to support Black communities. We will act as an accountability driver for the industry and provide companies, executive leadership, staff and talent with recommendations, writer’s rooms and consulting sessions as well as forthcoming incentivizing resources to support follow through, including an inclusion rider template, databases, directories, audit analysis, and taskforce convenings.
We cannot continue to rely on rhetoric as progress. It is time for Hollywood to do more than just listen to the generations of Black creatives in and around its ecosystem. It is time for Hollywood to act.
Color of Change’s roadmap for #ChangeHollywood can be found here.