The changes that occurred in the US over the past 50 years have emphasized the accessibility of culture to minorities. These changes were taking place as society started to understand the issues of discrimination, and slowly different cultural events, art, movies, TV shows, and other media sources began implementing an agenda against it. This was not happening fast, as even though many people were starting to realize the issues related to general equality in social life, the problems that were to be faced in different industries were not as clear. There were various aspects to be resolved about the general issue.
Even though, in fact, minorities gained and protected their rights, it was not the end of overall discrimination. When positive changes take place in one element, they need time to spread to other ones. It means that many other aspects of social life were still problematic for minorities. Getting attention to their creations and work was still difficult, and these were always assessed prejudicially based on the social group these people belonged to. Unfortunately, this issue was met in all industries and at all levels. This was related to social equality being relatively young in the US, and it did not spread enough to encompass all spheres of life and change the mindsets of most residents.
Artists who belonged to social minorities started to get access to the industry, which led to them getting acknowledgment and showing society that these people could also be engaged in art. In terms of movies, if earlier there were none to few actors who belonged to minorities, it slowly started becoming more often to see them playing roles in brand new movies. In fact, there are still many issues regarding the presence of cultural minorities in movies to be resolved; nevertheless, they are undoubtedly less crucial than they were before. Yet, after getting these actors into movies, more problems were discovered.
Oscar, which is the most popular movies related award, was accused of being biased against minorities several times. Lead actors of objectively popular and high-rated movies were not even nominated to get the award if they were not white males (Borum Chattoo 7). The movies they starred in ended up being ignored even in terms of nominations for best scenarios, music, and other aspects that were not related to the actors. Oscar was truly a discriminative award, and it was also related to the changes in society not getting into the industry that fast – they needed external motivation for it. The reaction of the audience led to changes in the organization, and eventually, minorities started to finally get involved in the nominations and actually get awards.
Perhaps not everything can be blamed on the Oscars in the early stages of the development of the acceptance of cultural minorities in the film industry. In general, there were very few films where their members played prominent or interesting roles, and they had neither big budgets nor big box office receipts. However, the number of films where the actors played not stereotypical roles but full-fledged ones, and the emergence of such films from large organizations, inevitably led to the actors of these films and the films themselves being nominated for awards.
There are various ways that were used by the movie industry to justify discrimination in casting. One of them was authenticity – directors and other people involved in making a movie claimed that casting actors who would make a movie not authentic would be wrong. There are some examples of when this factor is significant. If the case is a historical movie where the scene takes place in a region where residents prevalently belong to one ethnicity, it would be inappropriate to cast actors of a different race. Yet, speaking of cases where the script is purely fictional, this argument becomes irrelevant and makes it clear that casting was biased.
Another often justification for a casting that does not allow minorities is marketability. For example, it was believed that the prevailing percentage of the audience is white, so the actors in a movie should be the same. Nevertheless, it was proven wrong, as a big percentage of viewers, especially in cinemas, belong to cultural minorities. This argument is almost never relevant, as casting actors of a specific ethnicity do not affect marketing due to a number of reasons. Yet, this was used many times to defend the position of executives making decisions for not casting minorities.
Stereotypical roles based on ethnicity and often hiring minorities for less significant roles in movies was one of the manifestations of discrimination in the industry. Non-white actors were almost always hired to play secondary characters, and they were usually given roles that concentrated on and exaggerated common stereotypes about their cultural group (Zijlstra 39). They were portrayed as gangsters, drug addicts, and criminals, while white people were hired for the roles of heroes or victims.
The big problem associated with this was also that the appearance of such images in iconic cinema led to the reinforcement of such stereotypes and, consequently, worsened the situation. Sometimes these kinds of roles are appropriate, and if the context of the script implies that the character belongs to some social group, this does not cause any difficulties. However, when all the roles played by members of cultural minorities are negative, secondary, and stereotypical, it causes consequences in the perception of people about these groups. In addition, it affects the film industry as a whole, allowing it to remain comfortable playing with stereotypes and prejudices.
The emergence of films starring members of social minorities as well as films about their problems or their lives, also played an important role. It is interesting to note that these films were very much in demand, which once again refuted the argument that film marketing suffers because of actors who represent social minorities. In general, it was impossible to imagine before that such films could be made, but it has happened and continues to be successful. Just as importantly, the characters in these films were not presented in light of stereotypes about the group to which they belonged (O’Brien 274). The neutrality of this affiliation to a person’s identity, social status, and behavior was emphasized. Consequently, it caused viewers to weaken their stereotypes about certain groups of people and helped the movie industry move forward in the direction of greater access for social minorities.
Society gave a boost to this kind of cinema because there was a demand for it, and there was also a responsive effect. This kind of movie tilted the remaining doubters toward the same respectful and equal treatment of minorities they deserved (Vliet 146). Even if the role of movies in this was slight, it still had a positive effect. The consequence of this has been the emergence of more films of this kind, which has also led to a change in the evaluation of these films by awarding organizations.
As society developed in terms of understanding the issue of discrimination present, more pressure was put on organizations making decisions on awards and the movie industry overall. The media made publications about discrimination in the film industry, and public attention to the problem grew. Fortunately, this brought results, and eventually, relative equality started to form in casting for roles and choosing nominees (Sinckler 873). Actors from cultural minorities began to be seen in films in greater numbers, they began to receive the awards they deserved, and they began to be adequately evaluated for their work. Subsequently, the number of Oscar nominees and winners increased significantly among cultural minorities. This was a natural result of changes in society and the industry.
Changes in the movie industry in terms of engaging cultural minorities happened with a noticeable latency in comparison to these changes in society. Even more, time was required for these changes to start getting implemented in the awards. Nevertheless, they do represent the process of democratization of the movie industry in the US, even though milestones are not being overcome simultaneously. At the moment, the film industry continues to evolve in this direction, and awarding organizations are also following it. The problems that remain at the moment in cinema are gradually being solved, and in a little while, this solution will come to the awards, and then everyone will be treated equally, regardless of their cultural credibility.
Vliet, Hannah “White Saviors Get Gold Trophies: Colorblind Racism and Film Award Culture” Film Matters, Volume 12, Number 3, 1 December 2021, pp. 140-151(12)
Borum Chattoo, Caty “Oscars So White: Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Diversity and Social Issues in US Documentary Films (2008–2017)”, Mass Communication and Society, 2017.
O’Brien, Dave, et al. “Producing and Consuming Inequality: A Cultural Sociology of the Cultural Industries”. Cultural Sociology, 2017 11(3), 271–282.
Sinckler, Latonja. “And the Oscar Goes to; Well, It Can’t Be You, Can It: A Look at Race-Based Casting and How It Legalizes Racism, Despite Title VII Laws.” American University Journal of Gender Social Policy and Law 22, no. 4 (2014): 857-891.
Zijlstra, L. E. “Racism in Hollywood: African American Representations in Contemporary Cinema.” (2017).