The Black Voices of UCA: In A Perfect World…
By Fi Akinyemi
I don't argue for the sake of arguing, contrary to the belief of most of the people who know me. I argue when I genuinely see a problem because there's no gain to be had sitting in silence. Silence can't solve problems, but words can. Actions can. Expressed beliefs can. It's why the creative industry is so influential, because every single person has something that they want expressed to the masses but not everyone has the power to broadcast their message on such a wide scale. But we can all have conversations.
I decided to write this because my friend said people should be hired according to who is the most qualified not based on their gender. He's right, in theory. And if the world was a meritocracy, then he'd be right in reality. You should be hired according to ability and not have to try and meet diversity quotas, but the world doesn't function that way.
We live in a world where people of colour are still told if you used bleaching cream you'd be that much prettier. Where people with darker skin get called names like shadow. Where black women are told to act funny and sassy because they'll have better success as a Tiffany Haddish than a Meryl Streep.
Scarlett Johansson played an Asian character in Ghost in the shell and when that bombed, the lesson learned there was do it again but make it a good movie. Because two years later Natalie Portman was cast as the Asian lead in Annihilation. People barely even noted that her character was originally Asian. But when Catwoman was a commercial and critical failure, the lesson learnt there was people don't want to watch films with black superheroes leading them, not people don't like bad films with Halle Berry messing about with yarn. Catwoman came out in 2005, the next superhero movie with a black lead wasn't released until 2018. Thirteen years later. Only God knows when we'll get another black female led superhero. If.
Diversity quotas are not currently a requirement, but I think they should be. Because there are so many stories people from different backgrounds must share. If you're just surrounding with people who have the same experiences as you, then you are missing out on a whole world you didn't know existed. Not to mention a whole market. Black panther is 1 of 4 films to cross the $700,000 mark in America. Because I guess people enjoy being represented in good movies is shocking...?
Still, it's not enough to just create things with a diverse cast and crew as the failed Rush Hour and Lethal Weapon reboots will tell you. They must be good. Just like any other movie. Take a film like Creed: talented cast, great script, great directing which was released to financial success and critical acclaim. It just had a diverse cast on top of that. Ryan Coogler was trained at the USC School of Cinematic Arts which is one of the most lauded film schools in America. The acceptance rate of that school in general is 2% and based on it’s mostly white notable alumni, it's probably safe to assume that less than 1% are people of colour.
John Boyega, who is probably best known for his role in Star Wars, trained at the Identity School of Acting. Founder, Femi Oguns, has said the drama school that was "formed in response to the need for an establishment that rejected and catered for actors coming from a multicultural society." Unconscious or conscious there is a bias against people of colour that most people are too uncomfortable or ignorant to address.
And it's not enough.
We need to be creating more opportunities for people of colour to have jobs in the creative industry. And that starts by creating opportunities for them in film schools and art schools and drama schools. With casting calls not asking for "lighter looking black girls" or "must be willing to rip off weave" or even something as blatant as "Not too dark". All from real casting calls. People of colour should be working both on screen and off screen, in the writers' rooms, as a director, producer to name a few. They should be encouraged to explore creative careers as much as they are encouraged to explore others. And when they acknowledge their desire for the creative industry, they should be welcomed and embraced. Not because of their skin colour, but beside they are people. And they are just as entitled to their career as any white person is.
The creative industry values newness and inventiveness. Stories about ethnic minorities tend to be these things simply because no one is telling their stories. They're just rebooting and making sequels to films that hit people in the nostalgia. There are too many people of colour for our only parts to be the sassy best friend and the gangbanger who doesn't know his dad. We need to live in a world where more of us can have a successful career in the leagues of Daniel Day Lewis and Judi Dench, instead of the roles we're currently being pigeon holed into. We need to be at the point where 2002 isn't the only year to have a black woman win Best Actress. We need to live in a world where diversity is evenly split in every way possible.
But for any of that to be even close to reality, we need to say something. You need to say something. Even it's just a conversation with a friend. Because you never know what you could teach them or what they could teach you. And you'll never know unless you spark that conversation up, even if it feels uncomfortable at first. I felt ignored when I tried to talk about it. But I'll do it again. Until I feel heard. Until I feel completely comfortable discussing it.
And I won't stop there either. I won't stop until we get to the stage where people being hired for their ability isn't a theory, but a reality.