By Dominique Fluker, Forbes
On March 24, Essence Magazine hosted their 15th annual Black Women in Hollywood luncheon at the Beverley Hills Wilshire Hotel, coming off the heels of a tumultuous pandemic and virtual ceremony in 2021. The star-studded event, held several days before the Oscars, recognizes the iconic achievements of Black Hollywood luminaries and up-and-coming starlets, and this year’s award ceremony did not disappoint as the theme was “The Black Cinematic Universe.” This year’s honorees are entertainment industry veterans Nia Long (You People) and Oscar-nominated actress Aunjanue Ellis (King Richard), along with newcomers Quinta Brunson, creator of (Abbott Elementary) and Chanté Adams (A Journal For Jordan.)
There was a sense of belonging, community, and sisterhood in the air as the stars ushered in from the gold carpet into the Beverly Hills Wilshire ballroom to celebrate the honorees at the luncheon. In the midst of the excitement, a looming sentiment rang in true throughout the day, the lack of support from Hollywood regarding diverse storytelling and uplifting Black women artists and professionals behind the scenes, which left us wondering how far Hollywood has come since #OscarsSoWhite?
According to the 2022 USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative report by Katherine L. Neff, Dr. Stacy L. Smith, and Dr. Katherine Pieper, while white women and men of color have seen increased opportunities in the entertainment industry, this trend did not extend to women of color. Only five women of color directed a top-grossing film between 2020 and 2021, and fewer than 2% of all directors across 15 years were women of color — even though women of color earned the best critical reception for their work. The researchers say the results suggest that the quality that women of color bring to filmmaking is not an explanation for their lack of participation in top-grossing films.
The research results extends to women of color actresses as well. Of the 100 top films in 2021, only 32% featured an underrepresented lead/co-lead. This figure is slightly higher than 2020 when only 28% of movies had a lead/co-lead of color. 2021’s findings are still below proportional representation, as people of color make up 40% of the U.S. population.
While on the Essence Black Women In Hollywood Awards gold carpet, I asked Natasha Rothwell, writer, and Insecure actress, her thoughts on what the industry needs to do to diversify Hollywood. She said, “This is a question that white cis executive males in the industry should be answering. They need to ask themselves what they are doing to have representation in their projects to reflect what the world looks like. I want to see Black cinematographers and directors. I want to see more of us behind the screen.
Robin Thede and Courtney A. Kemp echoed a similar point of view. Courtney Kemp, former writer, and showrunner for Starz, brought up the constant scrutiny and doubt amongst white executives in Hollywood. She said emphatically, “Great question; I was saying as we’re watching with the Supreme Court hearings, we (Black women) are doubted and constantly undermined. It’s always so difficult for us to arrive and achieve and be appreciated for that arrival and those achievements. Today is about the opposite. Today is about celebrating us overcoming. It’s so exhausting sometimes to still have some of these same conversations. We’re still talking about firsts in 2022.”
Robin Thede, the creator of HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show, believes Hollywood is missing the diverse narratives of Black women. She said, “What’s missing in (Hollywood) are modern, normalized representations of Black women. We’re not a monolith. Whether it’s internet, TV, film, editorial, those things represent us, such as our sizes, shapes, color ranges, hair textures, matter. Black women have got to embrace our beauty and force the world, too, as well. We do such a great job of that, and events like Essence Black Women In Hollywood is a prime example.”
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