It seems that just about every industry in the United States has been made to look at how systemic racism has played a part in how that industry conducts business.
Hollywood’s TV and film industries certainly haven’t been exempt from doing some self-examination. Some might say that Hollywood has been among the most with changes to make when it comes to making things more equal for Black folks and eliminating Black stereotypes.
If any individuals know the challenges involved with navigating a nearly all-white TV and film industry, they would be Ava DuVernay, Lena Waithe, and Will Packer. So they joined a group of other Black folks in the business, including actors, executives, and lawyers, to discuss a host of topics with the Los Angeles Times.
One topic that was discussed is recognizing the non-Black people in Hollywood who are trying to help with the fight for racial equality in a real and measurable way, compared with those who are merely pretending to assist.
“You have certain people who are really reaching in, in a way that’s active and progressive, and you have folks that are going through the motions,” said DuVernay. “And in this moment, there are no more motions. That kind of empty exercise is being duly noted by me and others.”
“What I’ve found is the folks on the ground doing the work are not getting the influx of money from studios, networks and agencies, because those checks are going to the [big social justice organizations],” she added. “That tells me it’s performative. Performance doesn’t fix systems and structures. I don’t think it’s coming from a place of malice, it’s coming from a place of ignorance. People just don’t know what to do.”
DuVernay has been a consistent voice in demanding diversity in Hollywood. It’s something that others have recognized because she was voted to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ board of governors earlier this month.
The announcement came at the same time the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced new diversity standards for the 2021 Oscars.
Packer agreed with DuVernay that he’s seen an influx of people from outside the Black community reaching out and asking how they could help. It’s happened since George Floyd died while being arrested by a former Minneapolis police officer last month and protests began.
Packer, who’s a producer, said he didn’t see that same level of concern when other Black men have been killed by police or racist vigilantes.
“I, like many people in the business, have been contacted by my white colleagues and peers, reaching out to say, ‘Where do we go from here?’ I welcome that,” he explained. “We’ve been here and felt this before. For many of us, it’s a generational anger and a generational exhaustion. But at the same time, there is something different this time. I didn’t get this volume of calls around Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown or Eric Garner.”
Similar to Packer and DuVernay, Waithe has been consistently telling Black stories, with her 2019 film “Queen & Slim” being just one example.
Before that, she made a name for herself in Hollywood circles as a producer on films like “Dear White People” and “Step Sisters.”
But Waithe says it wasn’t easy along the way and it still isn’t, mainly because she has to hobnob with people who she feels are holding her back, something she says that many in Black Hollywood can relate to.
“In our workplace, we’ve got to be nice to people, we’ve got to have dinner with them and sit next to them at premieres,” Waithe detailed. “It is a truly traumatic thing for a lot of Black artists because you’re constantly having to rub shoulders with your oppressors.”