(By Ariana Bascom, Queen’s University)
In a world where technology has impacted our social interactions, it is imperative that we take advantage of it and make ourselves heard when needed. A free reign on social media means that online, there is more representation than ever before. Unfortunately this doesn’t seem to translate into film in the way that it should.
Since the inception of the film industry, there have continually been instances of whitewashing major characters and relegating minorities into stereotyped and minor roles. After the 86th Academy Awards, in which 12 Years A Slave swept many of the major awards categories, people believed that it was indicative of a major change in direction for the industry. Those expectations were crushed the year after when the 87th Academy Awards had the least diverse group of nominees in its major categories since 1995.
In contrast, the television industry has been visibly more progressive in the inclusion of diverse characters. This has been positively recognized by audiences and critics alike with high quality shows such as Empire, Transparent and Jane the Virgin continuing to draw in new viewers. Most recently, Viola Davis became the first black woman to ever win an Emmy for her performance in a leading role for How to Get Away With Murder; two of her fellow nominees were also African American. In her acceptance speech she openly acknowledged the divisive line between white people and people of color saying, “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.” This has been true for many years and while there is a move to become more diverse in both television and film, this needs to happen at a faster pace in order to fully represent our ethnic landscape.
In today’s day and age, one way in which we can blur this line is through our regular use of social media. Social media is a tool that is unique to our generation because it truly represents diversity in our modern day and age. There are no restrictions to who is able to join and much of social media is on a public platform. As a result of this, the public is able to express their opinion in a way that was unavailable to previous generations.
Live-tweeting has actually become a key component in encouraging audiences to watch television and raise viewership. Scandal, a show with a diverse cast, was on the verge of cancellation until live-tweeting helped cement its success as a ratings darling. Research has actually found that 64% more discussion is generated when cast members choose to live-tweet as their show airs. The type of influence that Twitter and other social networks have has created a new form of word of mouth that cannot be ignored. If enough people comment on a topic, it can trend and catch the eye of media outlets.
As a result, TV analysts can gauge the reactions of audiences to their shows without the need to rely on the numbers produced by Nielson ratings. Furthermore, the feedback they are receiving is more than just numbers. Television’s engagement with social media means that they are listening to the feedback that is being given and lets writers know what is best for a show. In addition to being able to connect with actors and writers on a television show through social media, many TV shows have social media accounts that further engage followers in conversation.
Social media is incorporated by the film industry as a way to promote their movies. However, once the window of time for promotion ends (usually after the release of DVDs), many movie accounts stop posting things or will just promote similar movies. The bottom line is that the film industry does not engage with audiences the same way the television industry does and this can be problematic in meeting demand.
The outrage of the lack of diversity at the 87th Academy awards was palpable among mass audiences online. However many industry experts did not express surprise at the outcome stating that Hollywood had been known to follow trends. According to The Ralph Busche Center’s 2015 Diversity Report, there is a higher demand for films featuring a diverse group of cast members. These types of films usually have the highest box office receipts and the highest median return on investments. This means that people want more films with diverse casts. If this is the case, then how can we get this message across to the film industry? Because the film industry depends on a consumer market we have the power to demand positive change in the way our globalized community is represented and discussed.
A recent incident saw actor Matt Damon interrupting Effie Brown, a black female director, during the season premiere of HBO’s Project Greenlight. Brown is expressing her worries that the director selected by the show’s producers may not be able to work with a minority character featured in the script in a sensitive manner. Damon talks over her to tell her that diversity isn’t important in the casting for their show; only in the casting of the film. It shows that while there are people in Hollywood who can acknowledge the problem of diversity in the film industry, they don’t believe it they should be involved in solving it. After Damon received backlash from social media he released an apology claiming that he is at least glad to have helped start a conversation about diversity.
However, if we want to make an impact we must strive for more than apologies. Social media can be used for more than just condemning the mistakes of the film industry. For instance, there are many filmmakers of diverse backgrounds who need promotion. Social media’s role as a word of mouth generator can be useful in bring these filmmakers to the attention of the general public. It is up to us as a target audience to be conscientious of the kind of media we are consuming and be assertive about what needs to be seen.