With all the recent chatter about #OscarsSoWhite for the second straight year where no minorities were selected among the 20 acting nominees, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recently announced the development of a change management plan to reposition its voting requirements, recruiting process and governing structure aimed at increasing the diversity of its membership and doubling the number of female and minority members by 2020.
Prior to this announcement, superstar Will Smith who many feel offered an Oscar-worthy performance in the film “Concussion” but did not receive a nod this year, did an exclusive Good Morning America interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts where he expressed his disappointment at the absence of minority nominees. Even more, Smith shared his thoughts on why those diverse roles are missing in Hollywood and should be all the more celebrated because “diversity is America’s superpower.”
Is diversity America’s superpower?
Yes and no. Not only is diversity a superpower for America, it is a global force that makes the world go around. Beyond our differences, there is an unparalled ability to exercise influence and project power across the globe. Power is the ability to control, circumstances and access such as financial, social, and cultural resources. It is complex, dynamic and omnipresent in all relationships. Power can restrict or restrain people through the control of resources such as money, knowledge, and social institutions.
Since the power of diversity has become an undeniable element of culture, industries are trying to catch up to create spaces of inclusion, especially in Hollywood. Leading figures Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith announced that they would not be attending the coveted Oscars ceremony and spoke out in protest for what is seen as the systemic exclusion of African-American, Latinos, women, and other minority groups from recognition by their peers. Actor/comedian Chris Rock, the host of this year’s Oscars, even wrote an essay nearly two years ago about Hollywood’s diversity problem. Cheryl Boone Isaacs, an African-American women in her second year as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences also shared her disappointment in the statement, “While we celebrate their extraordinary achievements, I am both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion.”
The message says certain voices, no matter how valuable or respected, will have low or no access to the influence and access that comes from power.
Because of power, we often maintain and perpetuate patterns of privilege in culture unknowingly. Members of the mainstream society or dominant/majority group define what is normal and are rarely forced to see or think about the “other” identity, standpoint or plight, if at all. Meanwhile, those who feel left out or overlooked are consistently in the difficult position of trying to dwell in two worlds – they are often reminded of their marginalized status, communicate from that perspective and feel forced to deal with forces that seem impossible to break. The Academy is a membership organization that directly reflects the demographic makeup of the industry it serves. Many in Hollywood from production to management feel a perpetual lack of opportunities or an imbalance that industry gatekeepers are unlikely to fix.
Within any industry, decision makers must be deliberate about creating a culture of inclusion.
Why? No industry can experience the strength of diversity and continue to be viable without the inclusion of the unique talents, voices and abilities. As people of color make up 39 percent of the U.S. population with upwards 3 billion in buying power predictions, changes in spending patterns and decision-making process will continue to reflect a constant shift. Industries must invest time and resources in aligning that shift with consumer demand, audience preference and organizational leadership.
So if diversity is America’s superpower, how should we use it to achieve greater inclusion? Here are a few things we cannot do.
- We cannot be frustrated about the lack of recognition yet overlook the lack of influence and leadership.
- We cannot allow those in power to openly insult those who contribute at a high-level by assuming that are not a “cultural fit.”
- We cannot think that diversity means non-white – all people are part of diversity and have a role in advancing its power.
- We cannot operate in our comfort zone by being satisfied with everyone at the table looking, speaking, and thinking in the same monolithic ways.
- We cannot write plans and make statements about diversity tactics without clear and transparent goals of inclusion as well as metrics and timelines to measure the change process.
- We cannot ignore the significance of marginalized groups who build efforts to celebrate their own cultural impact while welcoming others who acknowledge how that impact has made our society even better.
Superpowers are not a cure-all because developing cultures of inclusion can be a long complicated journey when often it doesn’t have to be.
If diversity is our superpower, we must allow the space for it flourish, witness its magnitude and let it make us greater.