In the aftermath of the 2016 Golden Globes, the Academy Awards of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences organization announced their nominations for the 2016 Oscars, and to some in Hollywood’s surprise, no Black actors or movies featuring a leading Black character earned a nod. This led to Jada Pinkett Smith, wife of famed actor Will Smith, releasing a video calling on the masses to join her in boycotting the Oscars, due to Hollywood’s refusal to acknowledge the contribution of Black actors to the Big Screen.
Her outcry was followed by other onscreen stars decrying the Oscars and Hollywood as a whole, citing lack of equality of opportunity for actors of color.
The call for inclusion within the ranks of Hollywood actors has gone viral ahead of the 2016 Oscars; however, the declarative statements by notable Hollywood A-lister’s posit no direct action to be taken in order to achieve any stated goals.
We are all well aware, protest without a plan of action, or a list of demands not bolstered by a bargaining chip, will persist for the day, but will become forgotten within a short time. What is harder to appreciate is a group of the proverbial one-percenter’s calling on the rest of us to join them in boycotting an awards show that most will never attend, and few watch with little expectation of things being any different than in previous years.
The truth is, an issue viewed as affecting the “rich and famous” has little resonance with the masses of Black Americans struggling to create a brighter future for their families. And for those who care enough to join in decrying Hollywood’s subtle and overt lack of diversity, their voices are too few, and they face more pressing issues of exclusionary and discriminatory policies within their communities in housing, in education, in employment, and in economic opportunity.
It is not surprising that Black Americans at the highest rungs of the economic ladder face the same issues those on the bottom rungs deal with daily. The irony is those at the bottom face these issues without the benefit of star power, media coverage, or financial capacity. They do so by organizing themselves and through participation in local branches of historical organizations such as the NAACP and the National Urban League. They begin by laying out an action plan, gather scarce resources, inspire others to get involved, and execute a “long-shot” plan to achieve their desired outcome. This time-tested methodology has proven successful for so long that it seems a foregone conclusion that Blacks in Hollywood suffering the industry’s lack of inclusion would adopt the same strategy and methodology.
The problem is the lack of conscientiousness by most in Hollywood on the broader issues of inclusion. While some of Black Hollywood have routinely lent a conscious voice and have been activists on issues of discrimination, civil rights violations, and police brutality, most have been silent and not weighed in when it mattered most. They have failed to hearken to the prophetic words of Martin Luther King, Jr. when he said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Don Cheadle weighed in on the “Oscars So White” controversy by saying, “this has to do with inclusion and access and the ability of people of color, women, minorities to get entry level positions where you can become someone who can green light a movie.”
He further stated, “People think that the Oscars So White is like the new Black Lives Matter thing. It’s like guys; you’re conflating things that at that level don’t have anything to do with each other. Diverse doesn’t just mean more Black people, diverse means more representation from the entire diaspora of what the United States has to offer, not just one particular minority group.”
His analysis is on target. “Oscars So White” isn’t the clarion call for 2016; if anything, it should be an awakening moment for Black actors to realize that the call for inclusion in Hollywood is only a small component of what is a broader push for equality in educational and economic opportunity. My recommendation is entertainers adapt the model many Black business professionals and entrepreneurs have had to master in order to be successful: determine how you become a unique value component in the entertainment supply chain leaving them with no choice but to do business with you. The key question then is HOW?
The effective solution is to develop an action plan, gather resources, inspire others to get involved, and execute a strategy that puts diverse participants at the helm of every facet of the movie and television production chain. The strategy should focus on recruiting selfless leaders with proven expertise in each facet of onscreen production: Writing, Production, Direction, Distribution, Marketing, and Digital Media. Establish a private equity fund and invest $100 million in seed funding to create, produce, market, and distribute media content. Enlist other entertainers, businesses, and the public to invest in the fund and on specific projects. Execute delivery of top-notch media content including screenplays, TV shows, documentaries, and theatrical plays.
This solution is what Black businesses and organizations have for years put to work to achieve progress, and is the way you bring about parity in Hollywood. The entertainment industry is a business, and where certain opportunities have eluded diverse participants, the way to better level the playing field is to take decisive action that moves you in the direction of creating your own opportunities at every level of the entertainment supply chain.
As a passive observer of the industry, I would develop a list of the top 100 entertainment professionals to propose building an entertainment conglomerate around, aimed at achieving that attainable goal of expanding inclusionary opportunities in Hollywood and the entertainment industry. These individuals are already excelling on their own path, but think how much more would be accomplished through leverage and partnership.
PRODUCERS, WRITERS, DIRECTORS
Oprah Winfrey, Bob Johnson, Mrs. Johnson, Tyler Perry, Berry Gordy, Steve McQueen, John Singleton (Lucas Films), Shonda Rhimes, Spike Lee, Shawn and Beyonce Carter, Russell Simmons, Ava Duvernay, Eriq La Salle, Quincy Jones, Antoine Fuqua, Tyra Banks, Judge Mathis, Reginald Hudlin, Mona Scott Young, Lee Daniels and Paris Barclay
THE GOLD STANDARD BEARERS
Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Bill Cosby, Cicely Tyson, Danny Glover, Diana Ross, Louis Gossett, Morgan Freeman, James Earl Jones and Pam Grier
LONGEVITY AND CROSSOVER ACTORS
Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Eddie Murphy, Angela Bassett, Vanessa Williams, Vivica Fox, Wesley Snipes, Forest Whitaker, Alfre Woodard, Laurence Fishburne, Jeffrey Wright, Charles S. Dutton, Whoopi Goldberg, Martin Lawrence, Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, Chris Rock, Don Cheadle, Dennis Haysbert, Halle Berry, Blair Underwood and The Wayans Family
THE NEW GUARD
Nate Parker, Michael B. Jordan, David Oyelowo, Idris Elba, Chadwick Bosman, Lupita Nyong’o, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Meagan Good, Kerry Washington, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, Taraji P. Henson, Derek Luke, Jamie Foxx, Steve Harvey, Zoe Saldana, Gabrielle Union, Thandie Newton, Tracee Ellis Ross, Anthony Anderson, Kimberly Elise, Mo’Nique, Terry Crews, Ving Rhames, Regina King and Common
ENTERTAINERS TURNED ACTORS
Tyrese Gibson, Ice Cube, Ice T, Ludacris, TI, LL Cool J, Cedric The Entertainer, Dave Chappelle, Mike Epps, Kevin Hart , Neyo, Snoop Dogg, Queen Latifah, Sean Combs (P Diddy), Curtis Jackson (50 Cent), Andre 3000, Mariah Carey and Alicia Keys
Lebron James, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Serena Williams and Floyd Mayweather
Laolu Davies-Yemitan is a real estate broker/developer who specializes in housing, multifamily development, and urban-suburban revitalization. LaoluD.blogspot.com; Twitter: @laoludavies