The Lack Of “Diversity” In The Film Industry.

In this article I’ll be exploring Hollywood, New Zealand, Korean Cinema and Brazilian Cinema. How each seem to differ with one another in how they approach diversity.

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Once upon a time I saw ‘Hollywood’ as flawless and impenetrable.

When I hear Hollywood, I think movie stars, celebrities, rich, powerful and most famously; the home of cinema. The name sounds so superficial that it allows you to believe that its every man and women’s dream to work there, to dive in its glorious land. I believed it, until a 2014 BBC study reported that…

Hispanic actors played only 4.9% of speaking parts in 2013 blockbusters, despite making up more than 16% of the population.

Even with significantly small roles, it’s known that Hispanics buy out a quarter of all movie tickets in the US (1). From this alone it seems as if studios neglect the fact that a significant part of its revenue come from the minority.

Black actors were cast in 14.1% of roles and 17% of films had no black speaking characters.

As a Black African, I’m disheartened that those stats were abominably so low. So why do Hollywood movies under represent non-white ethnic groups? Because surely it can’t be due to a reduction in revenue or the lack in the quality of performance…

In 2014, 12 Years A Slave was released and it grossed over $187million worldwide, with just a $20m budget.

Rating: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2024544/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Box Office: https://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=twelveyearsaslave.htm

In 2017, Get Out was released and it grossed over $255m worldwide, with a budget of just $4.5m.

Rating: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5052448/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Box Office: https://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=blumhouse2.htm

In 2018, Black Panther was released and it grossed not only a staggering $1.34b worldwide but became the highest grossing film for Marvel domestically and ranked #3 on the all time domestic box office. Budget estimated $200m.

Rating: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1825683/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Box Office: https://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=marvel2017b.htm

All three films were directed by black directors, which ultimately led to a majority black cast in 12 Years A slave and Black Panther, where as, a lead role given to a black actor in Get Out. Due to the facts, it seems a concern in the reduction of revenue and the lack in quality of performance is exclusively out of the question.

Black Panther Audience Review

Hiring more black actors has in fact substantially increased the value of Hollywood films. In a span of just 4 years, the positive correlation in revenue has in no doubt increased.

However, I do realise that each film has its own agenda politically, socially and culturally. 12 Years A Slave wasn’t shy in exploiting the cruelty of how African Americans were once treated. The inhumane actions of white men and women slave owners, exposed to a hugely populated white American audience.

Get Out wasn’t shy in exploiting the modern day black man’s life and the unorthodox treatment he gets from white civilisation. Resulting in a conclusion that I understand director Jordan Peele would’ve only given a mere glimpse of the truth.

Black Panther exploiting the heritage, culture and past of African Americans to a much larger audience and platform. While seeking to keep that identity not only to its characters but to its audience.

It leads me to wonder…does Hollywood want to suppress African American identity, Hispanic identity and maintain white dominance? The audience could become more largely populated and diversified if Hollywood films were able to implement a fruitful structure with their actors. Business is the foundation of Hollywood and so this is something I know they must be aware of. The three films above have brought real significant awarenesses, however, Black Panther had brought breakthrough to not only Hollywood but to the rest of the world. Perhaps in the near future, drastic change will succumb for diversified Hollywood movies.

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When I hear New Zealand, the first thing that comes to mind is Peter Jackson.

A New Zealand born legendary filmmaker who in no doubt has created masterpieces for the big screen. Some of the films that he’s created has in fact enriched New Zealand Cinema, by exposing the land in ways never seen before, from the outside world.

Rating: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Rating: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Rating: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

In my consideration to be one of the best trilogies of all time, Jackson decided to locate all three Lord of the Rings’ films entirely in New Zealand.

Landscape used for filming: https://www.newzealand.com/uk/feature/the-lord-of-the-rings-trilogy-filming-locations/

How could you blame him? It captured the beauty and essence of the land. The films’ exposure ultimately brought a light to the rest of the world. Ultimately defining New Zealand land as sacred and just like Hollywood was once perceived, flawless.

However, Director Taika Waititi had other thoughts. While stating that it’s “the best place on earth” it wasn’t hard to pick out the fact that New Zealand defiantly has its flaws.

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Director of Thor: Ragnarok, Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

His take on Racism within New Zealand: https://news.sky.com/story/new-zealand-is-racist-as-f-says-kiwi-film-director-taika-waititi-11324294

So how does this relate to the lack of Diversity in New Zealand Cinema?

Between 1928 and 1930, New Zealand filmmaker Rudall Hayward made numerous feature films which provided a vision of New Zealand modernity. (2). They Depicted fashionably dressed white men and women throughout the hustle of city life. (2). Each film showed New Zealand’s progress as a nation and in result projected a “prosperous white nation” (2). However, his films (referred to as his community comedies) were absent of Maori.

It seems as if New Zealand was eradicating their indigenous population and giving them no credit to the new industrialisation of their country. This reforming of national identity resulted in a lack of natives on screen and even in fact behind the camera. Hayward’s films were taking advantage of New Zealand Cinema politically, socially and culturally. Exploiting the reality that New Zealand was becoming a whitened civilisation.

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Julian Dennison

Like Hollywood, New Zealand films has forced a trend in which non-white Directors would most likely hire more non-white actors in their films. In this case, Maori descendent Taika Waititi, hired Maori descendent Julian Dennison as one of the lead roles in his 2016 film, Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

Rating: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4698684/?ref_=nv_sr_1

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Moana is a film which speaks highly of the strength of the indigenous population and their endurance. However, Taika Waititi spoke on the untruthfulness of the characteristics of Polynesians and Pacific Islanders, stating that American based films play it safer when touching upon other cultures based on the past; due to previous criticisms.

Hollywood’s intake on Polynesians: https://theplaylist.net/taika-waititi-writing-moana-20171106/

In contrast, Haywards’ films presented more of the radical truth of alternative cultures e.g. relations between Maori and Pakeha, within New Zealand Cinema. Rather than Hollywood’s films, which try to oppress the subject materials screened, by limiting the amount of minorities involved in the industry.

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Still Image from the Korean War (1950-1953)

How do you explain Korean Cinema in a nutshell? I think Steve Rose from the guardian said it best: “South Korea shares a border with a communist dictatorship that’s hungry, armed to the teeth and constantly threatening to start a nuclear war. The US has Canada.”

Canada’s Threat Level to global civilisation: https://www.nti.org/learn/countries/canada/

South Korean Cinema

From reading about the Korean War, I couldn’t agree more that the majority, if not all, of their films are psychologically inspired by their history. With films such as Oldboy, It’s allowed Korean Cinema to boom in its creativity and excruciating dynamics performed on screen. Korean films’ ambiguity clearly isn’t shy to the box office either. “Korean Cinema reached a climax in 2001 when it held all of the top five records in the annual box office.”-Kyung Hyun Kim (3). Korean Cinema has clearly met the needs of its audiences. However, although it capitalises on its enriching content, is Korean Cinema also guilty of lacking diversity on screen?

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Memories of Murder (2003)

Memories of Murder depicts events from South Korea’s past, a travesty that had to be told as genuinely as possible. In this film the majority of its cast were asian.

Rating: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0353969/?ref_=nv_sr_2

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Oldboy (2003)

Oldboy depicts fictional events, which expresses a transcending storyline. In this film the majority of its cast were asian also.

Rating: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0364569/?ref_=nv_sr_1

However, the similarities between the two films are its social and cultural presence. Towards the start of the film in Oldboy the protagonist is trapped, his imprisonment represents the social state of the past and its false promises that were given to the people of Korea. Which has inevitably shaped its culture to produce the image above, in which depicts the state of mind Koreans live in and their unorthodox lifestyle. Likewise, Memories of Murder represented the social state at the time in which only demographically Asians/Koreans would’ve been present, considering where the murders took place. My point?

Perhaps we can forgive Korean Cinema for their lack of diversity. Knowing their culture, social state and history precisely, has divulged a new form of creativity that differs extravagantly from the likes of Hollywood and New Zealand Cinema. The casting choices seem to have more of a purpose in leaning towards the sense of truth on screen, where as Hollywood, the lack in diversity seems to be more business minded and restrained. Furthermore, with New Zealand it’s more to do with demographics but in comparison to Korea…Korea has won that battle.

Considering the fact that South Korea’s ethnicity population is over 99% Korean.

South Korea Demographics

Now compare that to New Zealand and Hollywood…

New Zealand Demographics

The United States’ Demographics

Moreover, even though both Maori and African Americans are the minority, both Hollywood and New Zealand Cinema, have the opportunity to be more diverse than Korean Cinema.

The ‘Korean New Wave’ will in no doubt further increase domestic box office results in the near future. Perhaps the joint ventures with Japan and Hong Kong will lead to decisions to slightly increase the variation of ethnicity within Korean Cinema, for further appeal in worldwide box offices. While still being trusted to maintain or further better their unique films.

Lastly, Brazilian Cinema:

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City of God (2002)

Its no argumentation that it is known for its representation in masculinity. A South American country abundant in slums, drug trafficking and violence, has simply shaped the civilians from the younger generation to the older, into who they are today. City of God depicts the real life events of one young man’s defiance to the male stereotype of its culture and the other succumbing towards it. What makes the film so significant in comparison to Korea’s films is the candour of its on screen representation.

Rating: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0317248/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Brazilian social conditions during production

However, as with Korea, does that ultimately result in a lack of Diversity, within Brazilian Cinema?

In Four days of September, the perpetrators are perceived as brown or from another perspective one could say caucasian, the film fictionalising the true events of the American ambassador kidnapping.

Rating: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119815/?ref_=nv_sr_1

More in depth insight: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/adst/four-days-in-september_b_11450754.html?guccounter=1

In Central Station , the main characters identify with a more paler complexion. In which the younger boy is out looking for his father, with help from a sincere woman. Where as, in City of God, the majority of characters identified heavily between black and brown.

Rating: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0140888/?ref_=nv_sr_1

In a recent Brazilian census, 44% of the entire population identified as brown and 13% identified as black. The majority, however, identified as white (48%). So whether you’d identify the female protagonist in Central Station as Caucasian is up to perspective.

Brazil demographics

Furthermore, unlike Korea, Brazil has a more diverse range of inhabitants. However, when identifying with more masculine roles, it seems that a darker complexion is in preference. More subtle roles involve more of lighter complexioned actors.

Brazilian Cinema seems to base casting choices in relation to the social norm of the country. Rather than just purely about business, like in Hollywood and a limit on options, like in New Zealand and Korea.

Representation of Brazilian Slums: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2008/sep/15/worldcinema

Brazilian Cinema stems its creativity from its own reality, which is at the core. Which brings it in close relation with Korean Cinema. However, like City of God, Brazilian Cinema has the potential to boom if the films produced gained more exposure.

From reviewing all four cinemas, it seems that they all have their flaws. From the statistics it seems Hollywood is more business minded, which restricts openness to diverse voices. New Zealand’s history has almost muted the availability of diverse voices and depends on its land to gain valuable exposure. Korea’s demographics have allowed them to excel in creativity but limits their potential to maximise revenue worldwide due to a lack in diversity. Brazilian Cinema is very selective in how they perceive their stories in relation to reality and therefore can produce an unpredictable amount of diverse voices on screen.

Footnotes:

  1. BBC Article on diversity
  2. New Zealand Cinema: interpreting the past, Chapter 2, p67.
  3. The Remasculinization of Korean Cinema. Acknowledgements page.

 

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