In 1940, Hattie McDaniel accepted the first Oscar awarded to an African-American for her role as Mammy, a house servant in “Gone with the Wind” (1939). She sat away from her fellow cast members and was barred from attending the film’s premiere.
Though much has changed, the 2018 Hollywood Diversity Report showed that only 1.4 out of 10 lead actors are people of color. One of the most under-represented minorities in film are Asian Americans.
Recent releases highlighting Asian actors and culture, such as “Crazy Rich Asians” (2018) and “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” (2018), signify a turning point for diversity in Hollywood.
All minorities in Hollywood have been subject to “whitewashing,” the replacement of roles meant for people of color with white actors. While this issue has been repeatedly ignored in the past, for people of color representation in the media matters.
“When people, especially at young ages, see themselves represented in the media around them, they sense that there is potential to pursue their dreams,” said Dr. Croteau, director of film studies.
“To see these kinds of depictions on screen of people who look like you, have a cultural background like you, and have some of the similar struggles are key to what you think you can do within your culture and in the world,” Croteau said.
The lack of films starring minorities has partially been driven by the assumption these films will not make money. The recent success of the blockbuster film “Black Panther” (2018) shows diversity sells.
“There is an enormous audience for films that are not centered on white people,” Crotaeu said. “If you make a good film, people will come.”
Briana Lingad, senior environmental science major, said she is grateful for the change and embraces the representation as an Asian-American woman.
Lingad said this positive change has impacted her specifically.
“Now, there are characters that I can relate to because I see characters that look like me, and I can put myself into that narrative and I don’t have to try and be someone I’m not,” Lingad said.
“These characters are just normal kids in high school, not a stereotype, and I don’t feel like I have to fit into that stereotypical Asian role. We can be American but also be proud of our heritage,” Lingad said.
The push for diversity in Hollywood is also significant for Christians.
Megan Aleksak, sophomore early childhood development major, said diverse films allow people to learn and celebrate other cultures.
“When Jesus was here he accepted everyone no matter what they looked like or what their status was,” Aleksak said. “If the goal as Christians is to be Christ-like, we need to follow in his footsteps and celebrate everyone just like He did,”
As for the future of Hollywood diversity, Croteau and students said they have high hopes. The hunger for diverse films is there and fans of “Crazy Rich Asians” and “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” should be excited to see where filmmakers take them next.