In 2013, the Black Lives Matter movement was founded in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year old African American from Miami Gardens, Florida. The murder sparked debates across the United States over institutionalized
violence and anti-black racism. Over the years, the Black Lives Matter organization has evolved into a global network with the mission of establishing a world free of racism—a world in which the Black community can thrive without systematic barriers. With the recent peak of Black Lives Matter protests, people around the globe are taking action to support the effort for change. Of course, this includes demands for change responses in Hollywood.
Black writers are speaking out against Hollywood for the lack of opportunities and recognition among Black creators.
Last month, the Writers Guild of America West Committee of Black Writers released an open letter to Hollywood addressing the issues of systematic racism in the entertainment industry.
“As Black Americans, professional screenwriters, and members of the Writers Guild of America West (WGAW) Committee of Black Writers (CBW), we are grieving, we are angry, and we are unapologetically demanding systemic change,” WGAW states in the letter. “We read your statements on your commitment to Black lives and have been compelled by passion and duty as your peers to respond.”
WGAW continues, “We join you in conversation on how we can continue to hold our union and industry accountable to these stated commitments to Black writers specifically, and to racial equity in Hollywood in general. It is not just the future of our industry or our livelihood as writers, but our very lives as Black Americans that depend upon you listening thoughtfully and intentionally to what we have to say in response.”
The letter recalls the legacy of Hollywood, which has continuously excluded and misrepresented people of color. UCLA’s 2020 Hollywood Diversity Report reveals that 80% of film writing jobs are occupied by white writers, leaving Black writers with only 5.6% of writing positions. Black writers are discriminated against in the film industry as they are frequently underpaid, deprived of opportunity, and often go unrecognized for their work.
“We Black writers who have ‘made it’ in Hollywood have still been denied jobs at all levels, passed over for opportunities we were qualified for, rejected from writers’ rooms because of a ‘lack of experience,’ unsupported when seeking to create content specifically for Black audiences, critically underpaid and mistreated compared to white counterparts, and historically ignored during awards season,” WGAW explains in the letter.
The letter ends with a challenge for Hollywood. WGAW asks Hollywood to commit to creating a new institution which centers around diversity and accountability. The WGAW is prepared to make change happen, but is Hollywood?
Since the open letter, some of Hollywood’s major players have taken action to promote proper representation and inclusion of Black creators in the entertainment industry. Popular television series’ such as Netflix’s Big Mouth have released statements addressing Black characters being voiced by white actors. On June 24, actor Jenny Slate shared in an instagram post that she would be stepping down from the role of Missy Foreman-Greenwald, a mixed race character on Big Mouth.
“I reasoned with myself that it was permissible for me to play ‘Missy’ because her mom is Jewish and white—as I am. But ‘Missy’ is also Black, and Black characters on an animated show should be played by Black people,” Slate explained in her instagram post. “I acknowledge how my original reasoning was flawed, that it existed as an example of white privilege and unjust allowances made within a system of societal white supremacy.”
Slate ends her statement with an apology to the Black community and a promise to “continue to engage in meaningful anti-racist action.”
Earlier this year, Netflix announced that Big Mouth has been renewed for a fourth, fifth, and sixth season. The creators of the popular show recently shared on instagram that Missy’s character will be recast with a Black actor for its future seasons.
The Simpsons, Family Guy, Central Park, and Bojack Horseman have also released statements of apologies concerning white actors playing non-white characters. Black narratives should be told by Black actors, who can properly portray the experience of being a person of color. The efforts of these popular television series' is a step in the right direction.
On a bigger scale, Netflix stands as a leading power in Hollywood. The billion-dollar company is thriving during the current pandemic as their stock value rises above Disney.
Recently, Netflix announced their plans to aid in the Black Lives Matter mission of eliminating systemic racism. The company plans on transferring 2% of Netflix’s $5.1 billion to Black-owned banks. A total of $100 million will be moved into Black-led institutions that serve the Black community.
The goal is to extend help to every member of the Black community. Black Americans are limited to just 2.6% of the nation's wealth, leaving a huge wealth gap between Black and white Americans. Netflix’s financial actions aim to reduce that current wealth gap. Netflix also shared plans to transfer even more money in the future as the company continues to grow.
Hollywood has responded and made efforts in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. However, there still is a long journey before systematic racism is eliminated. Hollywood must continue to make efforts. Everyone must continue to make efforts.