Spike Lee: Easier To Be Black And President Of The USA Than Of Hollywood Studio
On November 14th, Spike Lee received an honorary Oscar from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at the Governors Awards. He gave a long speech, embedded above – if you’re in a hurry, the autobiographical part starts around the 4 minute mark, and the politics at 9 minutes 45 seconds.
Lee welcomed A2020, the Academy’s five-year industry-wide initiative for diversity, launched in the opening speech by Academy President Cheryl Boone Isacs (read more about this at the Hollywood Reporter). He then proceeded to remind the audience about the necessity of change.
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the United States Census Bureau says by the year 2043, white Americans are going to be a minority in this country. And to all the people out there who are in positions of hiring: you better get smart, because your work force should reflect what this country looks like,” Lee observed.
“And I’m gonna get real here,” he continued. “Everybody in here probably voted for Obama, but when I go to offices, I don’t see any black folks. Except the brother who’s the security guard who checks my name off the list when I go into the studio. So we could talk, you know, yabba-yabba-yabba, but we need to have some serious discussion about diversity and get some flavour up in this. This industry is so behind sports it’s ridiculous. It’s easier to be the president of the United States as a black person than to be head of a studio.”
As an afterthough, he added “or a network. Except Oprah – Oprah doesn’t count.”
For a play-by-play of the entire evening, turn to the New York Times, whose Michael Cieply and Brooks Barnes calculated that it took 2 hours and 24 minutes for the first white male to appear on stage at the ceremony.
For more on this topic, why not revisit the Hollywood Reporter’s A-List Actress Roundtable from June, 2015.
From Our 2015 Report
One of the themes in the 2015 Nostradamus report was the growing disconnect between filmmakers and audiences. While the issue of diversity is also on many minds, we found these two issues had rarely been connected in the clear way Spike Lee did in his speech last week.
“If the film industry has long been aware of the impact of changed consumption behaviours, a new development is that voices both in our interviews and all over the research are starting to admit that this is perhaps not entirely a problem created by technological disruption. The hard truth is that big parts of the film industry seem to have lost touch with the audience. In part, this is a demographic observation. In Europe and North America, the sector is still dominated by white academic middle class men, whose concerns, tastes and lifestyles are not representative of the wider population.
Programmes to address this imbalance will take years to have effect. They are in some places also facing a quiet resistance from within the industry, motivated by legitimate concerns over spreading available resources even thinner – but also by a fundamental inability of industry traditionalists to take this matter seriously. Make no mistake: if the overwhelming majority of the audience are poorly represented among storytellers and the speaking parts on the big screen, they will go where their lives and stories are not being erased.” (pp14-15)
For more context and suggestions on approaches for bridging the audience gap, take a look at the 2015 Nostradamus report.