Leave it to the Ladies: How Hollywood’s Women of Color are Taking Diversity, Equity and Inclusion In
Dedicated to Creating Sustainable Change for the Next Generation, These Talented Women are Changing the Industry From the Top
The 94th Annual Academy Awards will take place next month, and yet again my heart is heavy. For 94 years, this country has been an incubator for top talent and created the music, television, and films that entertain us all. The Academy Awards are designed to celebrate the elite talent and sensational performances that move us. They are the embodiment of excellence within Hollywood and the highest honor one can receive as an actor, cinematographer, costume designer, director, and all the vital cogs in the Hollywood machine.
Since 1929, over 3,000 statues have been awarded to these talented artists for their outstanding performances and unparalleled talent. However, of those 3,140 awards, only 51 have been awarded to African Americans, only 20 have been within the acting category, and Halle Berry remains the only Black woman to win Best Actress in a leading role for her performance in Monster’s Ball in 2001. Think about that — do you really believe that in all of Hollywood, only one Black woman stood out enough to win the award for Best Actress in a Leading Role? I beg to differ.
In 1939 Hattie McDaniel made history as the first person of color to not only be nominated but win an Academy Award for her performance as Mammy in Gone With The Wind. Winning the Award for Best Actress in a supporting role, Hattie McDaniel won the hearts of millions for her performance as Mammy — but let's not forget that her role was playing a Black slave in the South during the Civil War. While Gone With the Wind is undoubtedly one of the most widely respected films of all time, it is a slap in the face that the first widely accepted performance of a Black woman was that of an uneducated slave.
While Hattie’s accomplishment was groundbreaking and seemingly shattered the proverbial glass ceiling for Black women in Hollywood, her accomplishment quickly became overshadowed by White women until 1990 when Whoopi Goldberg won the same award for her performance in Ghost. On the flip side, the first African American actor to be even nominated for an Oscar did not come until 1958 when Sidney Poitier was nominated for his performance in The Defiant Ones. It was not until 1963 that Sidney became the first Black man to win an Oscar for Best Actor.
In Hulu’s Soul of a Nation special, Halle Berry lamented these frustrations felt by thousands upon thousands of talented Black artists who are continually being overlooked.
“I do feel completely heartbroken that there’s no other woman standing next to me in 20 years. I thought, like everybody else, that night meant a lot of things would change,” she added. “That there would be other women. I thought I would have the script truck back up to my front door and I’d have an opportunity to play any role I wanted. That didn’t happen. No other woman is standing there.”
Berry goes on to explain how Black actresses are forced to continually prove their talent and their worth over and over again while her white counterparts receive nothing but praise and accolades once they succeed. In the history of film, we’ve seen some of the most profound, earth-shattering performances by people of color — so why aren’t they being celebrated on the same level? Each time a Black actor or actress wins an award, little black boys and girls all around the world become inspired and encouraged that the same success is possible for them — but is it? It seems like we wait decades upon decades to even see the nominations reflect any kind of diversity or inclusion. Like any other organization that places the worth and value of Black individuals beneath that of White men and women, we need to take a look at who is running the show.
Not only is there an issue within the Academy itself and who is nominating these outstanding performers, but we also need to take a look at the studio heads. Who is running them? Who are they casting? Are they creating equal opportunity for actors and actresses of color? When we take a deep dive into these questions, the answer is a booming no. Plain and simple. It is one thing for a company to put a disclaimer on their legal documentation that they do not discriminate based on race, religion, creed, color, or sexual orientation, but the proof is in the pudding.
Take a look at the major production companies: Warner Brothers, Paramount, Universal, Columbia, and Walt Disney — how long did it take for Disney to create a film about a Black princess? It took almost 100 years for Walt Disney to create an icon for little Black girls across the world. Simply put: white men hold the reins of power in Hollywood, and they always have.
The only way to ensure that Hollywood becomes a more equitable place is to place men and women of color in positions of power and be a voice and enforcer of diversity and inclusion. After over 100 years of filmmaking, it is as clear as ever that this cannot be left up to white men. So how do we accomplish this?
Fortunately, a handful of powerful and beautiful Black women are flipping the script and creating their own production businesses to ensure that Black men and women are no longer overlooked for groundbreaking that inspires generations. Halle Berry, Viola Davis, and Regina King are just a few of the inspirational women standing up to create the change we all want to see within the industry and create a space where Black performers are seen and can thrive on the same level as their white peers.
Viola Davis started Juvee Productions in 2011, Halle Berry started 606 Films in 2014, and Regina King started Royal Ties Productions in 2006 to begin to pave the way for new changemakers to make their mark on Hollywood and the world. Since beginning their journeys into production, and in addition to their sensational acting careers, these women have since inked deals with Netflix, produced TV series that have aired on channels like CBS, and have begun the work required to make Hollywood a more equitable place. By placing Black men and women in positions of power to cast, produce, direct, and promote films and television, we can create a new era of empowered Black actors and actresses who (hopefully) will not have to continue the fight to be seen and celebrated.