With the Academy adding a class with 45% women, 36% underrepresented ethnic/racial communities, and 49% international from 68 countries, people like Awkwafina, Zendaya, Constance Wu, and Yalitza Aparicio are advancing the level of diversity that the film industry will be expected to uphold on their sets, stories, and community.
Founded by Emmy winning journalist Maria Menounos and Producer Keven Undergaro, AfterBuzz TV is the artist-friendly entertainment news platform that celebrates, discusses, interviews, promotes and reports on the widest range of stars, creators and content through video, audio and article publications.
In this day and age, people are demanding inclusivity on the big screen; whether it’s gender, ethnicity, or sexuality. Movies are an amazing way to be exposed to different cultures and backgrounds that you may not be exposed to in everyday life. That is why it is very important to show those different cultures and backgrounds in a positive and accurate light. Being painted in a negative way could really add to those societal stereotypes that we are working so hard to beat. It helps both people who aren’t used to different cultures learn more about them, as well as helps those of the different cultures feel included by seeing themselves on the big screen.
As a Syrian-U.S.-American, Aladdin was really the only movie I could watch where I felt like I saw myself on television without being depicted as a terrorist or refugee, and even Aladdin is not perfect. The opening song starts the film by describing the Arabian lands as a place “where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face, it’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home” (which Disney later got in trouble for and changed the words, but the new ones aren’t too much better). In the film, there is a man who attempts to cut off Jasmine’s hand for sealing an apple at the marketplace. While I’m not endorsing stealing, I feel like anyone would say cutting someone’s hand off is pretty extreme for that sort of crime, especially given the context.
There was even a study done by Jack Shaheen, a writer and lecturer who specialized in addressing racial and ethnic stereotypes, where out of one thousand films that contained Middle Eastern references from the years 1896 to 2007, twelve were positive, fifty-two were neutral, and over nine-hundred were negative; Aladdin was one of the positive ones. I’m proud of being Syrian, I really am, it’s just not a lot of people here, in my home country of the United States, think I should be.
I’m not telling this story for you to say “oh poor you,” I’m telling it to try to show that there is a change happening now. Using myself as an example, the show Ramy seriously changed my life. I watch that show and see myself. I see my mom in his mom, and my dad in his dad, and my sister in his sister, and myself in him (sorry brother, I see you in Ramy too when they talk about the difference between growing up as a man or woman in an Arab household). It made me feel normal and showed me that people really are experiencing life the way I do, and that’s just one show that came out last year, one of thousands. Imagine if I grew up in a world where I saw myself on the screen in a number of shows in a number of genres. I really do believe that if that were the case, the amount of prejudice and stereotypes we live with today would be greatly diminished.
There are many aspects to the film industry and a huge one is the Academy. Prior to this, there was not really any indication that they were trying to change from the predominantly straight, white and male community they had. While you can add color and culture in front of the screen, if you don’t change what’s happening behind the scenes, those colors and cultures will not be properly represented. Not to say that a white guy can’t tell a story that’s not about a white guy, but there’s a difference between The Color Purple, directed by Steven Spielberg, and 12 Years a Slave, directed by Steve McQueen.
The Academy could be considered as representation of who is in charge in the industry. The Academy gives out the most prestigious filmmaking awards of the year, and if the people who are voting on it are of all the same background, then of course the same kind of films will always be on top. People naturally gravitate towards what they know and understand, and there is no problem with that. The problem is when the people in the room are of the same background and have the same ways of thinking.
We need diversity to grow as a community; just like we need diversity in ideas to grow a company. Now with diverse, yet powerful, voices like Awkwafina, Zendaya and Yalitza Aparicio in the mix, more diversity can be celebrated on the Academy stage. With this roller coaster of a year, this is definitely the diamond in the rough.
Aya Faham is a intern at AfterBuzz TV and a senior at Emerson College pursuing to be a cinematographer for independent feature length films. She is from San Francisco, and was the first graduating class at her high school of Summit Public Schools: Shasta in Daly City (right south of San Francisco). Another fun fact is she was born on International Left Handers Day, and she is left-handed.
Founded by Emmy winning journalist Maria Menounos and Producer Keven Undergaro, artist-friendly AfterBuzz TV is the world’s largest digital broadcast network and pop culture news platform, producing post-game ‘after-shows’ for nearly all favorite TV shows, interviewing cast and showrunners and providing the widest video, audio and article coverage of shows, content and influencers than any entertainment news platforms in existence
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