2017 and 2018 are the years when one of the last fortresses of white cultural supremacy, Hollywood Studios, came under attack. After the uproar caused by #OscarsSoWhite, many national minorities have risen to demand accurate portrayal and representation of their culture and people in national cinematography (Barnes). This precedent, which followed the historical #MeToo movement, has revealed many of the long-standing issues within the American cinematography, which has been predominantly white ever since its inception (Buckley). Mass Media and the art of cinema are some of the most powerful tools that can either enforce or break negative stereotypes. For the duration of Hollywood’s existence, the role of Chicana and Latino actors in the industry has been extremely marginal even though these people make up the majority of the population in California. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the phenomenon from historical, cultural, and socio-economical perspectives to highlight the common trends of Hollywood’s treatment of ethical minorities.
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Cinema as an Urban Space
During this assignment, I visited over a dozen historic locations that were either related to the history of cinema, the history of Chicana, or the history of struggle against racism. Throughout the existence of cinema in America, it was treated as a place of social importance, wealth, and grandeur (“Death of Ruben Salazar”). The majority of old cinemas in California are located in large capital buildings, which solidifies the connection between society and the perceptions of what is seen in cinema. Before cinema became widespread and readily available to everyone, only the wealthy were capable of affording buying tickets to the movies. Motion pictures were a breakthrough in the entertainment industry, a perfect combination of static imagery and theater. Everything seen on the movie screen was granted with a degree of visual credibility, which allowed it to become a perfect instrument of enforcing propaganda and racial stereotypes (Yuen 35).
History of Hollywood through the Prism of Racial Disparity
To understand why Oscar is so white, we need to look at the history of cinema in the USA. Racial disparity affected American cinema ever since its inception. Hollywood as a center of cinema industry began developing in 1910. At that time, the White non-Hispanic majority of the American population was the wealthiest and the most influential both financially and politically, while various minorities and indigenous folks, like the Chicana, the Latino, and the Black populations were effectively treated as second-class citizens (Yuen 27). White actors dominated acting schools across the country; the main heroes of the stories were also predominantly white. Other minorities were either underrepresented or not represented at all in the contemporary cinema.
When they did, their role in the motion pictures was predominantly negative. Black people were represented as bumbling fools, whereas the Indians like the Chicana were frequently utilized as generic enemies that the brave white colonists had to defeat (Yuen 48). Racist policies towards education guaranteed underrepresentation of minorities in cinema, as there was simply no reason to grow or hire any such actors since all the dominant roles were already occupied. Many of the movies where minorities are represented in any way have reinforced the negative stereotypes surrounding minorities. One such example is “The Birth of a Nation,” (1915), which portrayed the members of KKK as heroes while vilifying minorities and sexualizing women (Yuen 75).
This turned into a problem for Hollywood industry later on, as one generation of actors was being replaced by another, and the increasing demand for diversity had no actors to satisfy it – while the white school of acting was in bloom, good Black, Latino, and other minority actors were few and far between. If we analyze the nominated actors for Oscar, the roots of #OscarsSoWhite begin to show – since the first nomination of the award, only one Latino actor was ever allowed to receive it (Barnes). While many perceive it as an act of cultural racism, it may have been the reflection on the industry itself – with Black and Hispanic actors being rare, the number of actors that could have been nominated for Oscar was extremely limited. However, the main reason for that was the racist background, upon which Hollywood has been built.
Why does the Latino Audience Sponsor Misrepresentation of their People and Culture?
The polls show that Latinos make up for 23% of frequent moviegoers, who have a large impact on the box office (Barnes). There are several reasons why have the protests begun only now, following the wave of massive scandals that hit Hollywood in the past year. First, the audience does not necessarily go to the movies to see accurate representations of their people and race. They go there to have fun, not caring much for who the actors are and what their nationality is. The second reason is familiarity with cinema being dominated by white actors. Since Hollywood has been mistreating various minorities like the Latinos, the Blacks, or the Chicana, for so long, it became the norm.
Several stereotypes have been enforced with such vigor that they became widely accepted by even the misrepresented minorities, who grew to seem themselves in an inaccurate and insulting way. The third reason for the Latino audience to keep going to the movies is a lack of choice. Hollywood remains the grandest cinema platform in the world. Various national movie companies from Mexico, South America, or Spain cannot compete with the popularity and grandeur of Hollywood, which established an effective monopoly over American cinema. However, that begins to change. Recent polls have shown that the number of Latino moviegoers has dropped from 11.6 million to circa 8.3 million (Barnes).
What Can Be Done?
Some critics of the inclusiveness movement claim that Oscars will be given to people of color and other minorities not based on their cinematic achievement, but for the virtue of being Black, Latino, Asian, etc. This is an incorrect assumption. The reason why many movies directed by minorities deserve to be nominated for Oscar is that they present social issues in a way that traditional White cinema would have never dared representing. One such example is the Walkout – a drama based on a true story of Chicano student riots in 1968 against injustices and discrimination in the US educational system (“Walkout”). This movie was shot in 2006, but gained relevance only in 2018, in the light of recent events and changes. Exposing many of these unknown and underrepresented pictures to society and giving them the spotlight they deserve is what the new Oscar should aim for if it is to change for the better.
Barnes, Brooks. “After #OscarsSoWhite, Hispanics Seek Their Hollywood Moment.” New York Times, 2018, Web.
Buckley, Cara. “After #AskHerMore and #MeToo, Time’s Up.” New York Times, 2018, Web.
“Death of Ruben Salazar.” Smithsonian American Art Museum, Web.
“Walkout: The True Story of the Historic 1968 Chicano Student Walkout in East L.A.” Democracy Now, 2006, Web.
Yuen, Nancy Wang. Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism. Rutgers University Press, 2016.