The American History Podcast

A Program Of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities


BackStory and #OscarsSoWhite

The 88th Academy Awards host Chris Rock is shown posting among life size Oscar statues.

The 88th Academy Awards host Chris Rock is shown posting among life size Oscar statues.


Brian Balogh

Brian Balogh

Recently, BackStory co-host Brian Balogh moderated a panel of Hollywood insiders and a fellow academic in a Google hangout discussing inclusion in the film industry. Rather than focus solely on racial issues, the group sought to shed light on issues impacting multiple minority communities in cinema – from the early years through today – and offer some solutions for achieving an on-screen America that accurately reflects the real thing.

Guests included: 

Anne Hoyt
Anne Hoyt is AARP en español‘s film critic and a member of the selection committee for the Morelia International Film Festival. She is also the political correspondent for the Mexican radio station, Formato 21.

Bob Jackson
Robert Jackson is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Tulsa.  He specializes in modern American cultural studies, with particular interest in the connections among literature, media, and history.

Lucy Mukerjee-Brown
Lucy Mukerjee-Brown is a film producer, an LGBTQ activist and an advocate for minority filmmakers.  In 2015, Lucy joined Outfest as the Director of Programming. She is a two-time Film Independent fellow, as well as a member of BAFTA and the Producers Guild of America.

Adam Moore
Adam Moore is the National Director of the EEO & Diversity department at SAG-AFTRA. He is responsible for developing and implementing a national diversity plan of action to achieve full inclusion, in particular focusing on those groups that have historically been excluded from entertainment and news media.

Here are some highlights from the show:

Lack of Inclusion Is Nothing New 

Bob Jackson, notes that the lack of inclusion, especially when it comes to Oscar nominations, extends beyond actors. Writers, directors and many others involved in the filmmaking process are often excluded when it comes to awards season.

Past Oscars Boycotts 

Bob recalls past boycotts of the Academy Awards including a 1996 failed attempt led by Jesse Jackson, protests by the LGBTQ community and the fallout after the 1915 film, “The Birth of a Nation.”

Is This The Dawn of a New Age in Filmmaking? 

The times are a changin’ according to Adam Moore. Filmmakers now have greater access to the tools necessary to make and distribute a film and audiences are demanding to see new things.

Hollywood is Big Business 

Film critic Anne Hoyt talks about how decisions are often driven by money. Hoyt also notes that Spike Lee’s latest film, “Chi-Raq,” which she described as a triumph, failed to capture Oscars’ attention due to bad marketing.

Who Are The Decision Makers? 

Lucy Mukerjee-Brown, a film producer, describes how the individual holding the purse strings calls the shots and tends to hire whomever looks like him.

Addressing The Other Gaps: Gender and Disability 

USC’s Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity included some numbers that Bob found startling, including how few filmmakers are women. He notes that a lack of representation of female or disabled filmmakers is just a portion of an overall, far-reaching problem.

Latinos and Cinema 

Latinos buy almost one-quarter of all movie tickets sold, according to Anne. Yet, they are grossly underrepresented in front of and behind the camera.

When The Minority Becomes The Majority 

Lucy and Adam note that demographics are shifting and minority communities are right on the brink of becoming the majority. They talk about what those changes will bring.

Is Cinema More Than Entertainment? 

Anne believes that film plays a “vital role in reflecting and shaping society.” She thinks government support, in the form of subsidies or tax incentives, could help boost inclusion within the industry.

Breaking Stereotypes And Increasing Positivity 

Anne and Lucy talk about how some minorities are portrayed on the big screen and how much positive representation means to a marginalized community.

Who’s Opening Career Paths For Disabled Talent? 

Adam talks about the importance of disabled talent having a seat at the table and a voice in the conversation about diversity and inclusion.

Final Thoughts 

The guests encourage viewers to become a part of the filmmaking process by using their creativity, to support those working inside and outside of the industry to create change and to watch the films that show the inclusive America audiences want to see.
See the full hangout:

Additional resources:

USC’s Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity

2016 Hollywood Diversity Report: Busine$$ As Usual

A Statement on Diversity from the SAG-AFTRA President’s Task Force on Education, Outreach and Engagement and the SAG-AFTRA Diversity Advisory Committee

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