Everyone once in awhile you come across an article that totally captures your attention in a way nothing else has that day. For me, that happened with The New York Times article from today, entitled “What It’s Really Like to Work in Hollywood* (*If you’re not a straight white man.)” It’s so good. For it, The Times interviewed 27 “industry players” from actors to writers, producers, directors and even a cinematographer–all of whom have in common that they’re not straight, white men. So what’s the experience been like for them in Hollywood? As you can imagine, not that great.
Allow me to quote a few of my favorite bits for you:
“My role is not just artist. It’s also activist because of the way I look. On so many shows and movies, race was a gesture, and in mine it’s the premise. I can’t ignore that what a lot of people see is an Indian woman who doesn’t look like a Bollywood star. It piques their interest, and they’re not bad for wanting me to tell stories about it, and I’m not wrong for not wanting to. I want to fill my desire to write vibrant, flawed characters, but then also be a role model to young people. It’s stuff that I think about all the time. Some people don’t have to think about this at all.” – Mindy Kaling
“The discussion came up when we were doing [the TV series] “Living Single” that [the cast needs] to lose weight. [My manager] Shakim would get the call, and it would be laughter by the time it got to me, because there’s no way. I felt I represented a woman out there who should get to see somebody who weighs about as much as she does.” - Queen Latifah
“I remember my first meeting with the producers on “Erin Brockovich,” before Steven Soderbergh came onto it, and saying, “This scene where she’s shimmying down a well in a micromini? I can’t do that.” [They said], “But that’s really what happened.” And I go, “I know, but once you make it a movie, you have to re-examine, what’s the function of this scene?” I didn’t feel I was being fully understood. People assumed it was about my sense of modesty. And you just think, “No, you’re not hearing what I’m saying.” Steven and I were very in sync on how we wanted to portray her — the sexiness as well as the soul — and I didn’t have to wear a micromini shimmying down a well.” – Julia Roberts
“As a director, I definitely feel the boys’ club. There’s still that, “She can’t possibly know what she’s talking about.” It’s always been meant as a compliment, but [crew members] go: “You know what you’re doing. Wow. You know lenses. Oh, my God, you know shots?” Yes, I know where to put the camera. You just go, “Do you say to the dude directors, ‘I’m pleasantly surprised you knew what you were doing’?” – Eva Longoria
“I had just won [a top award at Sundance], and [my manager] wanted me to audition for the Latina chubby girl in a pilot. She wasn’t even the lead; she was just the sidekick, with the same joke in every scene. I said, “I’m not going in for that.” When I ultimately left him, he [told] another of my reps, “Somebody should tell that girl that she has an unrealistic idea of what she can accomplish in this industry.” That was someone I was paying to represent me.” – America Ferrera
“I had posted something that was very political, and the amount of negative comments was really heart-wrenching. Then, [at a restaurant], this older black dude walked up and said, “I didn’t want to bother you, I didn’t want a selfie, I just wanted to let you know that the story line of Jamal” [his gay character on “Empire”] “really made it easier for me to talk to my son about his sexuality.” I needed him at that moment. But apparently he needed the story line at the moment.” - Jussie Smollett
If you have time, you can read the full article here–and you should! It’s amazing. And definitely worth thinking about with The Academy Awards coming up on Sunday. The fact that Hollywood is run by straight, white guys has always baffled me. I’m an Iranian, Jewish woman. Do you know where I found people who accepted that and loved that and who were just as different as I was? In the arts. That’s what the arts are about–bringing everyone in and letting them know they have a place that’s safe for them. That’s not what’s happening in Hollywood, and it saddens me.
But at least it’s something we’re talking about now, and we’re definitely seeing more racially and sexually diverse characters on television and in film, and I love that. Here’s to hoping that in the not too distant future the fact that these actors, writers, directors, producers, etc. had to talk about their experiences in this negative light will be something we could never imagine happening again.0