Diversity in Hollywood is the hot button discussion of the day, spawning much conversation and the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. Some celebrities who’ve weighed in have handled it with the thoughtfulness that this issue deserves, while others, uh, have not. Hollywood legend Steven Spielberg is the latest to give his two cents, broaching the topic on The Hollywood Reporter‘s ‘Awards Chatter’ podcast. To his credit, he starts off pretty well.
“I was surprised at some of the individuals who were not nominated. I was surprised at [the exclusion of] Idris [Elba] — I was surprised at that. I think that was one of the best performances in the supporting actor and the actor category, was Idris. I’ve seen Straight Outta Compton — my wife and I saw it when it first opened, the first weekend, and it just rocked our world. It was incredible. I was very surprised to see that omission.”
Yes, most people view these as the most egregious snubs at the Oscars this year, especially considering the fact that the Straight Outta Compton cast wasn’t even invited to the ceremony, just the two white screenwriters who nabbed a Best Original Screenplay nomination. But he continues, pulling out an excuse similar to the perennial “I have a black friend:”
“You have to look back a couple of years,” he says, “where Lupita [Nyong’o] was recognized for 12 Years a Slave [and] 12 Years a Slave won best picture, you know? I don’t believe that there is inherent or dormant racism because of the amount of white Academy members.”
Oh, boy. Using one example from a few years ago probably isn’t the best way to make your point. While slave narratives are usually well received by the Academy, it is important that people of color are given the platforms to tell a wide variety of stories reflecting many facets of their culture and journey. The success that the creators of 12 Years A Slave earned was a step in the right direction, things have been pretty lily white ever since. Spielberg also explains that he doesn’t think that stripping white Academy members of their positions to make room for more minorities is the right way to handle things. While his reservations make sense, the hard truth is that concessions will have to be made to make room for a more diverse Academy moving forward.
However, Spielberg does make a really good point in saying that blame for the lack of diversity doesn’t rest solely on the shoulders of the Academy. There needs to be changes on the ground floor as well:
“It’s not just the Academy, and I think we have to stop pointing fingers and blaming the Academy. It’s people that hire, it’s people at the main gate of studios and independents. It’s the stories that are being told. It’s who’s writing diversity — it starts on the page. And we all have to be more proactive in getting out there and just seeking talent.”
While he may not acknowledge the position of privilege that he and many of his fellow Academy members operate from, at least Spielberg agrees that things do need to change before they can get better. That’s a little progress.