Hollywood’s Real Diversity Problem

Patrick Keeney
July 13, 2021
Some of us are old enough to remember when the entertainment industry’s primary objective was to entertain us rather than indoctrinate or proselytize. If political causes were pushed, it was conducted subtly; open activism was relegated to a few mercurial directors. That, of course, was a long time ago. But now come signs the public has had enough of Hollywood’s incessant preaching. Patrick Keeney notes the recent travails of the movie business’ most famous awards shows and explores what might be done to move beyond an entertainment diet of all-leftism, all-the-time.

Hollywood’s Real Diversity Problem

Patrick Keeney
July 13, 2021
Some of us are old enough to remember when the entertainment industry’s primary objective was to entertain us rather than indoctrinate or proselytize. If political causes were pushed, it was conducted subtly; open activism was relegated to a few mercurial directors. That, of course, was a long time ago. But now come signs the public has had enough of Hollywood’s incessant preaching. Patrick Keeney notes the recent travails of the movie business’ most famous awards shows and explores what might be done to move beyond an entertainment diet of all-leftism, all-the-time.
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Next year’s Golden Globes were recently cancelled due to a lack of diversity. The awards show and the shows being awarded were found not to have acceptable ratios of participants from designated races, genders, sexual orientations and other identities. The Golden Globes aren’t the only entertainment institution in trouble. This year’s Oscar “extravaganza” posted its most dismal TV ratings ever. The organizers might take solace in knowing they are not alone; popular interest in award shows of all kinds has declined dramatically, with viewership of the Grammys and the Emmys also falling precipitously.

These developments have given me hope. It is no small thing to be spared the smug, politicized attitudinizing of Hollywood celebrities. Few will miss the Hollywood aristocracy’s sneering contempt for the plebians and cretins among us – that is, people who fail to think as they do. Granted, it was morbidly fascinating watching the stars accept their award and then cheerfully proceed to alienate half their audience, lecturing the great unwashed on what political views were acceptable. As our celebrity overlords blathered on, they seemed blissfully unaware of Michael Jordan’s observation that “Republicans buy sneakers too.” 

Trouble in Tinseltown: With the cancellation of the 2022 Golden Globes and ratings for the Academy Awards in freefall, is it time for Hollywood to rethink its relationship with the movie-watching public? (Source of image on left: Nielsen)
But the organizers of the Golden Globes are right. The awards do lack diversity. The media-entertainment complex has morphed into a monochromatic and flavourless blancmange, reflecting the idea-du-jour of Democratic Party apparatchiks. Hollywood seems to think human reality is isomorphic with the sensibilities of woke ideology.
Look at me! Hollywood’s current definition of diversity entails actors and actresses who may look different but think and act exactly alike.

In keeping with the identitarianism of the Biden White House and its official dogma of critical race theory, we have become accustomed to seeing our screens filled with predictably clichéd characters. The story’s protagonist, such as a police captain – or any sympathetic character in the narrative – must be female, BIPOC or a representative of some otherwise identifiable, oppressed minority, such as the LGBTQ community. Bonus points go to the production if the hero or heroine is intersectional, that is, representative of two or more oppressed constituencies. Such individuals are paragons, fighting for truth, justice and the good in a patriarchal and irredeemably racist world.

Villains are now almost exclusively cis-gendered white males, either poorly educated and brutish or super-humanly evil and possessed of Machiavellian cunning. They typically smoke, drink beer and drive pickup trucks as they engage in misogynistic musings and hate-filled racist banter. They are thoroughgoing sociopaths. According to Hollywood, the evil that men do arises exclusively, or nearly so, from the black souls of white men. If in an occasional twist the villain or henchman might be other than a white male, you can rest assured there’s always a compelling reason that diverts blame and dilutes shame – a bad upbringing, the need to put food on the table, pressure from a gang leader, or a previously false conviction based on perjured testimony from a corrupt white cop.

To make the story exciting and the protagonist relatable, producers like to give our hero or heroine a problematic backstory. Perhaps a troubled marriage or love life, struggles with alcohol or other addictions or a propensity to self-harm. Nurse Jackie is a classic in this regard.

The viewer soon comes to understand that such “issues” arise not from a deep character flaw or moral failing but, as with the occasional non-white villains, from external sources. These are typically gross assaults upon their human dignity suffered under 1) the male patriarchy, 2) white privilege or 3) the general awfulness, racism and institutional injustices of Western civilization. Our hero or heroine is, at the core, the naturally good individual of Rousseau’s reveries. Alas, the inequities of an incurably corrupt society have conspired to deform and maim an otherwise pure, tender and exemplary soul.

Hello, I will be your cis-gendered, white male villain for tonight: Russell Crowe’s unnamed, pickup driving male aggressor, credited merely as “Man,” in the 2020 road rage movie Unhinged, offers a state-of-the-art example of Hollywood’s most popular bad guy.

Given the entertainment industry’s habitual gender and ethnic typecasting, audiences nowadays can within moments of the first shot begin to judge, sort and rank the show’s key individuals. A white man smoking a cigarette and driving a pickup or a luxury car is a sure sign that evil is afoot, just as we know that the appearance of a female police officer or a BIPOC character signals it’s time to sympathize and form attachments. Movies and TV series are now as predictable as they are dull.

These shows have become soapboxes for the celebrities and their politically correct groupthink, because outside work, these same actors (and directors, producers and screenwriters) preen and strut in promoting favoured causes and repeating talking points from the accepted narrative. Robert de Niro, for example, seemed to genuinely love yelling “F— Trump!” The few who attempt to remain outside politics come under enormous pressure, and most soon begin signalling virtuously.

 

Hollywood has long congratulated itself for its fearless telling of truth to power. But the movie industry evinces a myopic understanding of where power resides. It expurgates the many and various power structures in society associated with the left of the political spectrum – like government, education and the cultural sector, including the entertainment industry itself.

In Hollywood’s strange alchemy, the power to which the truth must be told resides primarily in corporate boardrooms, particularly oil companies, which are fundamentally evil – as are the people who work for them. In both the (otherwise excellent) TV series Longmire and the not bad thriller Wind River, oilpatch field workers (white guys, of course) were brought in strictly to fulfill the storyline’s need for a pack of rapists and drug dealers. Of nearly equal ranking in Hollywood’s criminal pantheon are the coal and nuclear industries, and Big Pharma is not far behind. Real estate developers – or really, anyone wishing to build anything of general use to regular folk – are readily available villains if the storyline calls for defending a cute village or enchanting shoreline from despoliation.

Whose fault? Typical of many contemporary TV dramas, Nurse Jackie, played by actress Edie Falco, offers viewers a protagonist with a problematic backstory of drug abuse and self-harm that can conveniently be blamed on society at large.

None of these industries is above criticism, of course. But one tires of the clichéd portrayal of the executives who run these companies as heartless, amoral monsters whose only interest is wrecking the environment, as they snort coke and shag their victimized personal assistant. In Hollywood’s limited imaginative landscape, the storyline goes something like this: against the cruel and unfeeling cis-gendered executive, whose oil/coal/nuclear company is busy polluting the lake/river/water supply, a courageous Jeanne d’Arc arises, preferably one from the BIPOC community. Despite the sinister manoeuvring of an all-powerful corporation and against all odds, our heroine’s pluck, selflessness and, well, simple goodness save the day. It’s Erin Brockovich over and over and over.

Just as Big Oil is devoted to the ruination of the environment, Big Tech is a force for good in this world, dedicated to furthering social justice. Surely most of us have noticed how oligopolies like Google, Apple, Twitter, Netflix, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon are typically portrayed as exemplifying corporate virtue. Why, Amazon practically kept us alive during the pandemic by delivering goods to our door. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have kept us connected while banishing those who engage in wrongthink – like Donald Trump. They help keep us safe by censoring ideas that might confuse us or do us harm – like the contents of Hunter Biden’s  laptop.

Take your pick: Netflix viewers have a surfeit of choices when it comes to exposés on the failings of Republican politicians.

I’d love to see an alternative plot. Perhaps Hollywood could develop a storyline in which an oil executive – a cis-gendered family man of intellect and moral probity – tirelessly and courageously fights the world’s screeching, irrational Greta Thunbergs. He does so not to enrich himself or boost the company’s bottom line but to save jobs, thereby sparing families and communities from financial ruin and the despair and social disorder that arise from poverty and unemployment. Now that would be courageous and unusual, and would go some way toward boosting the contemporary diversity quotient.

Hollywood does have the power to expose political corruption. But the only kind it’s interested in is that of conservatives and Republicans. Vice, a recent film available on Netflix skewered former Vice President Dick Cheney, while various documentaries provide an unedifying portrait of Donald Trump. Cheney is, of course, eminently skewerable, and much about Donald Trump is unedifying. Both men present filmmakers with a target-rich environment.

But an industry genuinely devoted to diversity would also hold to account the grandees of the Democrat Party as well. Why not apply the same forensic lens to, say, the Biden clan or Bill and Hillary Clinton? Among the oldest questions in journalism is cui bono – who benefits? Following the money-trail in the Clinton Global Initiative, for example, would make for a compelling Netflix investigation. Clinton is a man of powerful appetites. His wife is a woman with a long memory and a full serving of Nietzschean ressentiment, that is, the tendency to find a scapegoat for one’s own failures and inferiorities, such as the Russians. Throw a gusher of charity money into this volatile union (much of it from dubious sources) and let’s see what happens. I would pay to see that movie.

And while we’re at it, we might well ask why Netflix saw fit to give Barack and Michelle Obama – not hitherto known for their filmmaking prowess – a mid-sized fortune to help the company develop movies. Similarly, that same streaming service has magically transformed Harry and Meghan, aka The World’s Most Annoying Couple™, into movie producers, showering them with largesse. What’s in it for Netflix? Harry and Meghan constantly regale us with tales of how oppressed they are and how cruel the fates have been to them. Perhaps some kindly executive at Netflix simply took pity on them – the way some of us donate to, say, the local women’s shelter. Still, it would be intriguing to know that what lies behind such corporate generosity. Cui bono? These are stories Hollywood should explore.

Not your standard fare: The 2017 movie Chappaquiddick, featuring Jason Clarke (centre) as Sen. Ted Kennedy, is a rare example of a movie that dwells on a scandal within the Democratic party; Byron Allen (right), CEO of production company Entertainment Studios, said “some very powerful people … tried to put pressure on me not to release the film.” (Source of photo on right: Shutterstock/ Kathy Hutchins)

Fortunately, we are beginning to see a few such efforts, movies that explore the skullduggery on the other side of the aisle. Chappaquiddick, for example, casts a gimlet eye over the eponymous incident in which Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy caused the drowning death of Mary Jo Kopechne. The movie focuses on how Kennedy’s damage control team – which included liberal luminaries Ted Sorensen and Robert McNamara – attempted to craft a strategy to address both Kennedy’s legal exposure, i.e., potential manslaughter charges, and the political career-ending scandal.

It worked. Despite the glaring gaps and elisions in Kennedy’s story, the press huddled together to protect the sainted Kennedy clan. Ted Kennedy continued in the U.S. Senate for another 40 years. And the establishment remained forever on-guard to protect the narrative, rounding upon any threat. Byron Allen, the CEO of Chappaquiddick producer Entertainment Studios, revealed that “there were some very powerful people who tried to put pressure on me not to release the film.” Allen remained refreshingly resolute, perhaps because he was motivated by a higher calling: “I’m not about the right. I’m not about the left. I’m about the truth.” It’s encouraging to know that at least some Hollywood filmmakers still think that way.

“We need to give people options”: Right-wing pundit Ben Shapiro recently announced he’s starting a television and movie production company to counteract Hollywood’s habitual leftist bias.

There are other hopeful signs. Ben Shapiro, the editor of the conservative website The Daily Wire, is starting an entertainment company to produce movies and TV shows that “won’t promote leftist causes.” Shapiro echoes Andrew Breitbart’s dictum that “politics is downstream from culture.” As Shapiro explains, “What [Breitbart] meant by that is that more people are shaped by the culture that surrounds them than by politics directly: we consume movies and TV shows…we swim in a sea of culture.” Conservatives, says Shapiro, “have two choices: they can tune out, or they can find alternatives…We need to give people options.” 

That’s welcome news. But there are critical issues that defy the traditional left-right (or red-state/blue state) account of the world. Among other profound forces, the pandemic has shaped new battle lines. The past 18 months have made clear 1) how nebulous “the science” can turn out to be, 2) the cravenness of our political class, and 3) the near-omnipotence of social media in censoring ideas that threaten the agreed narrative. A key one being, of course, that the Covid-19 virus may have been manufactured in a Wuhan lab – until recently verboten by Facebook. With luck, the next Golden Globes show will adjudicate productions that address such themes. Just kidding, of course.

Hollywood’s monoculture delivers movies that are predictably mind-numbing woke-fests, pedantic little tales telling us how we should think, for whom we should vote, and how we should parse the issue of the day. Genuine diversity demands stories that speak to real lives, explore enduring human problems and grapple truthfully with contemporary social dilemmas. An honest attempt to tell such stories would lead filmmakers to explore realities outside the woke bubble. If Hollywood were to tell such tales and embrace such diversity, who knows?  Perhaps the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the organizers of the Golden Globes, could once again hold their heads high and shell out their glittering little prizes.

Patrick Keeney is Associate Editor of C2C Journal.

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