The Stars of Sexist and Racist Hollywood Shine Bright Tonight

Paul Jacob
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Posted: Feb 26, 2017 12:01 AM
The Stars of Sexist and Racist Hollywood Shine Bright Tonight

Tonight, after strolling down the red carpet and preening for the bulb-popping paparazzi, the kings and queens of Hollywood will honor their fans with many tedious televised hours of congratulating and awarding themselves.

As winning actors and actresses grab their Oscars,they will likely take turns upbraiding Mr. Trump as both racist and sexist. Don’t dismiss the charges cavalierly, though — especially sexism. Remember the Access Hollywood audiotape wherein Trump was heard boasting he had grabbed women where you’re not supposed to grab anyone?

Sure, one can hope Trump was just talking like a sexual predator, not actually planning to behave in office the way Arkansas Governor (and then President) Bill Clinton did. The savagely harsh and unforgiving vengeance Hollywood wreaked on Mr. Clinton was breathtaking — especially the female stars (spurred on, no doubt, by the highly principled stand taken by the National Organization of Women).

Of course, many folks found the horror and brutality of Hollywood’s condemnation so incredibly disturbing that they’ve entirely blotted it out of memory.

Let’s face it: racism and sexism still exist in America. Even in liberal Hollywood. Or perhaps especially in liberal Hollywood.

Don’t take my word for it. If we accept the movie stars at their word, what other conclusion can we draw?

“It’s pretty undeniable,” responded actor Daniel Radcliffe, who played Harry Potter, to a BBC interviewer asking whether the film industry is racist. “We like to think of ourselves as being a very, very . . . a progressive industry. But we have been lagging behind in all kinds of areas.”

Last year’s Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Awards — the Oscars — were boycotted by black director Spike Lee and actors Will and Jada Pinkett Smith in protest over all 20 acting categories in 2016 (and 2015 as well) being devoid of minority nominees. The hash-tag #OscarsSoWhite became . . . well, a thing.

“[H]ow is it possible for the second consecutive year all 20 contenders under the acting category are white?” Mr. Lee questioned. “Forty white actors in two years and no flava at all. We can’t act?! WTF!!”  

The award-winning director made it clear that the problem wasn’t merely the Academy’s lopsidedly male and white voting members. He pointed instead to “the executive offices of the Hollywood studios and TV and cable networks,” adding “we ain’t in those rooms, and until minorities are, the Oscar nominees will remain lilly white.”

“It’s easier for an African-American to be President of the United States than be president of a Hollywood studio,” quipped Lee.

Certainly, minority actors and films are up for Oscars this year and membership in the Academy has been expanded. Yet, whether 2017’s awards are the start of a trend or simply a blip to get past the public scrutiny remains to be seen. Moreover, Tinseltown’s hierarchy, fingered as the core problem, hasn’t been shaken up.

Women, too, remain woefully underrepresented in motion pictures. A comprehensive 2015 report by The Annenberg School at USC’s Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative surveyed the 100 top-earning films each year from 2007 through 2014. The findings were stark: women only comprise 28 percent of speaking roles and a mere 21 percent of lead or co-lead roles. Plus, more than a fourth of female roles involved “some nudity,” compared to less than 10 percent of male roles.

Worse yet, in the eight years surveyed, women actually lost ground. Female speaking roles fell five percentage points. Behind the camera, women have even fewer opportunities. The study showed only 2 percent of film directors and 11 percent of writers were women.

Dorothy Pomerantz, writing in Forbes, summed it up: “Hollywood still doesn’t get it. The town still doesn’t believe that there is a place for women in film.”

“I feel lonely on set. And it’s not just that you’re the only woman in the cast. There are very few women on the crew. You hardly ever get to work with a female director,” actress Zoe Saldana told Time last month. “You’re completely outnumbered. And you take a hit in your paycheck as a woman too.”

“Compared to men, in most professions, women make 80 cents to the dollar,” Oscar-winner Natalie Portman said last month. “In Hollywood, we are making 30 cents to the dollar.”

The gender pay gap, so often tossed around, is largely erroneous. It’s a comparison between the median male income and median female income of hundreds of millions of workers nationwide, without regard to the jobs being done or levels of experience, etc. Conversely, the leading roles in a movie can more fairly be compared one-to-one.  

The North Korean hack of Sony Pictures revealed numerous cases where female stars were paid far less than their male counterparts. For instance, in the film “No Strings Attached,” Ashton Kutcher, Portman’s male co-star, received three times greater compensation.Actress Jennifer Lawrence’s pay for American Hustle was seven percent of the movie’s profit, while her male co-stars, Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale, earned nine percent.

“There’s a much bigger issue at hand [than just money],” mega-box-office-star Sandra Bullock responded in Variety. “I’m glad Hollywood got caught.”

In her article for Salon, Katie McDonough concluded, “Hollywood is a cesspool of misogyny and racism.”

Tonight, as these guardians of social justice prepare to celebrate themselves and scold President Trump, wouldn’t it better serve the interests of fairness and equality if actors spoke whatever truth can be mustered directly to the power structure sitting before them in the ballroom?

Squirm, Hollywood. Smile.