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To Be Equal: It’s Time for Hollywood to Act Like Diversity Matters

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Marc Morial

By Marc H. Morial
NNPA Columnist

 


“Diversity is basically a description of independence. Diversity is what moves the ball for me, and I thought ‘give people a chance that have different points of view. Let the audience decide whether they like it or not. But give those voices a chance to be seen and heard.’
” – Robert Redford, actor, director, and co-founder of Sundance Film Festival

Hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the 87th annual Academy Awards ceremony, better known as the Oscars, will either best be remembered for the uproar incited by this year’s homogenous nominations, or as a seminal moment for change in the Academy’s long, non-inclusive history.

For the first time since 1998, the stage has been set for our nation to celebrate its least diverse Oscars. In a year that saw Oscar-worthy turns from several actors of color, none were nominated in the acting categories, with all 20 acting nominations going to White actors. But the story doesn’t end there. Not a single woman stood among the five directors and 14 screenwriters nominated in those categories.

In a nation where nearly 51 percent of the population is female, how can formidable directors like Ava DuVernay for “Selma” and Angelina Jolie for “Unbroken” find themselves on the cutting room floor of the nomination selection? In a nation where, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey, “Some 43% of Millennial adults are non-white, the highest share of any generation,” how does the Academy’s nominees not reflect Hollywood’s audience base or the nation in which we live?

In response to the outcry surrounding this year’s Oscar nominations, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first African American and third female president of the Academy, spoke to the Associated Press and pointed to progress in the Academy’s efforts to reflect our nation’s diverse, movie-going audience. She noted, “In the last two years, we’ve made greater strides than we ever have in the past toward becoming a more diverse and inclusive organization through admitting new members and more inclusive classes of members,” adding, “I would love to see and look forward to see a greater cultural diversity among all our nominees in all of our categories.”

I share her vision, but the question remains of when those words will be put into a plan of action – and championed by the broader industry.

A much-cited 2012 survey of the Academy by the Los Angeles Times demonstrates the crux of the problem. According to the survey, the estimated 7,000 Academy members are 94 percent White, 77 percent male and have a median age of 62 – hardly a representative reflection of the nation.

While my role is not to question the film credentials of the Academy’s members, I do question the ability of such a homogenous body to reflect the perspectives, lives, and stories of a diverse pool of moviemakers – and moviegoers. I would also question the ability of the Academy to monitor itself and become a more inclusive body without the pressure of public scrutiny and advocacy.

Here are a few things to note about Academy membership: membership is “limited to film artists working in the production of theatrically-released motion pictures…The Academy’s membership process is by sponsorship, not application. Candidates must be sponsored by two Academy members from the branch to which the candidate seeks admission. Additionally, Academy Award nominees are automatically considered for membership and do not require sponsors…The Board decides which individuals will receive invitations.”

The Academy’s membership requirements are both an indictment and call to action. When women and minorities are snubbed at the Oscars, it means much more than wounded gender or ethnic pride. It means that we, as a nation, have lost an opportunity to reflect our unique diversity via a medium that touches so many of our lives. It means we have lost another seat at the proverbial Oscar table.

This is about more than awards deferred; it is about dreams deferred. It is about the lack of racial and gender diversity we find both behind the screen and in front of it. It is about the inevitable way the Academy’s membership roll directly influences who gets nominated and who wins.

What it is not about is an unfair advantage, but instead, a fair chance to have the work of a wider swath of our filmmakers, casts and crews considered. That must begin with a significant change in the composition of the Academy.

I would be remiss not to acknowledge the strides the Academy has begun to make to address its diversity issues. Hiring Boone Isaacs as its president was an important step on the road to diversifying, and her decision to remove a cap on the number of Academy members and push for Academy members to invite a more diverse pool of people to apply are the first of many important steps that must be taken on the journey towards inclusion. But more must be done.

Progress rarely comes as a result of being passive. I urge you to join me in efforts to ensure more inclusion in Hollywood so that we can look back on the 2015 Oscars as the catalyst that spurred action for much-needed industry reform.

 

Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.

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Activism

EDITORIAL: Don’t Let Politicians Decide the Future of Journalism – Why We Oppose SB 911

Redirecting the $25 million to advertising or outreach on the many issues these communities now face is the best use of state funds. Create mandates that steer a fairer share of marketing dollars for issues like the drought, housing, wildfires, climate change, or health care to our media sector and that will reach the underserved audiences the state needs to reach, rather than wasting time and money on a costly administrative process in the name of ethnic media.

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As advocates of the ethnic media sector, we work with ethnic media practitioners every day. Among our top objections to SB 911 is that it promotes a one-size-fits all model to local and ethnic journalism.
As advocates of the ethnic media sector, we work with ethnic media practitioners every day. Among our top objections to SB 911 is that it promotes a one-size-fits all model to local and ethnic journalism.

By Regina Brown Wilson and Sandy Close

What could go wrong when politicians in Sacramento decide the future of  journalism?

The California Legislature could soon provide the answer. SB 911 — authored by Senator Steve Glazer – is the subject of a debate on how $25 million in state surplus funds should be distributed to local and ethnic journalism. If it is passed, we believe the bill would drive a stake in the heart of the independent ethnic media sector.

Ethnic media takes pride in being rooted in their communities and sounding an independent advocacy voice — accountable to the communities ​they serve. Back in 1827 the mission statement of Freedom Journal was proudly this: “We wish to plead our own cause, too long have others spoken for us.”

As advocates of the ethnic media sector, we work with ethnic media practitioners every day. Among our top objections to SB 911 is that it promotes a one-size-fits all model to local and ethnic journalism.

In fact, for many decades, most ethnic media have operated as for-profit businesses. You can see on ​the mastheads — Sentinel, Voice, Guardian, Crusader — the call to our communities. Mainstream media has often disparaged ethnic media ​as advocacy media,​without understanding the unique role we play for our readers.

SB 911 is promoting a “nonprofit” model that would expressly forbid ethnic media from endorsing political candidates or lobbying for or against proposed legislation. It would silence ​them!

SB 911 establishes a board of political appointees to administer state money that would be costly and time consuming to set up and would wind up determining the criteria for how government doles out support for local journalism for years to come. Ethnic media might have two representatives on that board. But the majority on the pane​l would have no direct knowledge of the unique role of ethnic media or how ​they work. The last thing ethnic media needs are people with little experience in their communities determining what kind of media those communities need.

This scheme puts ethnic media in a competition to gain the approval of a board of political appointees. ​They would end up dependent on this board. In fact, ​they would end up dependent on grants or government agencies instead of local communities that have long supported ​them.

As currently written, the bill would allow media startups – including many in the nonprofit space – that have operated for only one or two years to qualify for support. This language fails to acknowledge the contributions made by established media that have worked for decades to serve their communities and sustain themselves.

SB 911 shines a spotlight on the dire straits many ethnic media find themselves in, especially following the business shutdowns from the pandemic, inflation, and a possible recession, let alone the demands of adapting to the digital world. But we’re not prepared to greenlight the bill as currently written for the sake of whatever share of the $25 million the board bestows to individual outlets after their own admin costs are met.

We urge the Legislature to consider far more productive ways of supporting the ethnic news sector much as it did with efforts promoting the 2020 Census when it increased the advertising dollars earmarked for ethnic media from $15 million to over $85 million, recognizing that only ethnic media could deliver truly inclusive outreach to the diverse communities that now make up the state.

Redirecting the $25 million to advertising or outreach on the many issues these communities now face is the best use of state funds. Create mandates that steer a fairer share of marketing dollars for issues like the drought, housing, wildfires, climate change, or health care to our media sector and that will reach the underserved audiences the state needs to reach, rather than wasting time and money on a costly administrative process in the name of ethnic media.

The non-profit model works well only for a small number of ethnic media news agencies; they are convenors and informers of community, they fit the category of mission-driven journalism, we applaud them for their work.

But one size does not fit all media, especially given the diversity of ethnic news outlets. Don’t ask ethnic media to transform ​themselves into a model that reduces ​their interdependence with community. “Too long have others spoken for us.” That’s what SB 911 does and why we must oppose it.

About the Authors

Regina Brown Wilson is executive director of California Black Media, the oldest advocacy organization supporting locally-owned Black media.

Sandy Close is director of Ethnic Media Services and former executive director of New America Media/Pacific News Service.

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Activism

COMMENTARY: How Dare They Deny Our Right to Vote on Public Funds

The voters never asked to weigh in on whether the A’s should be allowed at Howard Terminal. They only wanted to give an advisory vote on whether the City should spend $1 billion of public infrastructure funds for a privately owned ballpark and luxury condominium complex.

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If Oakland City Council members continue in their refusal to allow voters a say in agreeing to a bad deal, the voters always have the right to overturn the Council’s action by referendum vote.
If Oakland City Council members continue in their refusal to allow voters a say in agreeing to a bad deal, the voters always have the right to overturn the Council’s action by referendum vote. 

By Kitty Epstein

On July 5, the City Council rejected the request of Oakland voters to place a measure on the 2022 ballot to allow them to weigh in on whether the City should spend public funds on infrastructure for billionaire A’s owner John Fisher’s privately owned baseball stadium and luxury condominium project at Howard Terminal.

Along with 800 likely voters, 76% of us said ‘yes’ to a survey by a nationally acclaimed polling firm that asked if we wanted to be heard before the City spent public money on infrastructure and other costs associated with the A’s development project. We followed that by getting 12,000 signatures on petitions sent directly to the Council demanding that they place the question on the Nov. 8, 2022, ballot.

But the Council folded under the bullying tactics and rejected the ballot question with several phony excuses, including:

  • Money for the A’s is not coming out of the general fund
  • The project is too complicated for the voters to understand
  • There is no deal yet, so it is premature to ask voters their opinion

The voters never asked to weigh in on whether the A’s should be allowed at Howard Terminal. They only wanted to give an advisory vote on whether the City should spend $1 billion of public infrastructure funds for a privately owned ballpark and luxury condominium complex.

More than 100 speakers told the Council that public funds include money from the city, the county, the state, and the federal government. These are dollars that should not be committed to a ballpark and luxury condos when Oakland has surging homelessness and public safety emergencies.

In the end, the City Council gave in to construction unions who want to build the ballpark and luxury condos and they bent their collective knee to the A’s owner who doesn’t care about Oakland. By siding with billionaire Fisher and the unions, the Council let their own constituents down.

Two brave Councilmembers — Noel Gallo and Carroll Fife — favored the public’s right to vote. Councilmembers Dan Kalb, Niki Fortunato Bas, Sheng Thao, Loren Taylor, and Treva Reid ignored the pleas of their constituents and voted against placing an advisory vote on the ballot.

As an extremely disappointed voter who participated in the poll and one of the 12,000 who signed petitions supporting a right to vote, I want to make sure all Oaklanders know who let them down and what they can do about it.

Councilmembers Thao, Taylor and Reid are running for Mayor. Councilmember Bas is running for re-election. These people think voters cannot be trusted to advise on whether public money should be spent on the A’s, but they want those same voters to elect them to office.

Councilmember Fife pointed out the duplicity of their position. She said the public will have their say in November one way or another. “Even if this (ballot vote) doesn’t move forward today, it will be in front of the Oakland voters in November in the form of who they vote for, for re-election.”

I respect some important actions taken by the Council this year on issues like the business tax. However, if they can’t stand up to the construction trades leadership who are predominately white, and right-wing billionaire Fisher on this critical Oakland matter, what other negative actions will they take on similar projects and on requests from their constituents?

This fight is far from over. If Oakland City Council members continue in their refusal to allow voters a say in agreeing to a bad deal, the voters always have the right to overturn the Council’s action by referendum vote.

That is even more likely now that the Council has added insult to injury by rejecting the right to vote and bending their knees to the whims of the A’s owner.

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Activism

COMMENTARY: Start Now to Take Back the Supreme Court 

Thanks to the anti-democratic Electoral College, Donald Trump was elected in 2016 even though almost 3 million more Americans voted for Hillary Clinton. Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell prevented the Senate from even considering President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nomination so that Trump could fill it instead—and then rushed Trump’s third justice onto the court even as voters were casting ballots to remove Trump from office.

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Ben Jealous serves as president of People for the American Way and Professor of the Practice at the University of Pennsylvania.

By Ben Jealous

Did you ever wonder whether elections really matter? Well, the Trump Supreme Court majority has answered that question for good.

Or, more accurately, they have answered it for bad.

In the term that has just ended, the new far right-wing majority on the Supreme Court went on a rampage. They have torn up decades of legal precedent to diminish Americans’ rights and legal protections. To justify the results they wanted, they lied in their rulings the way some of them lied to get on the court. It has been a shameful display of power politics disguised as judging.

Not surprisingly, the most attention has been paid to the Court majority overturning the 50-year-old Roe v. Wade decision. A constitutional right that has made a huge difference in the lives of generations of women was wiped away. The impact will be devastating and deadly.

Millions of individuals and couples dealing with unwanted pregnancies, the trauma of rape or incest, life-threatening pregnancy complications, or even a miscarriage that some intrusive government official decides is suspicious, will have their options severely limited or eliminated entirely.

We know that those restrictions and their consequences will fall most harshly on already vulnerable people, including Black people, LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities, and low-income people. Already in Missouri, a major health care system will no longer treat rape victims with emergency contraception because the state abortion ban puts medical care providers at legal risk.

Anti-abortion state legislators seem to be in competition to see who can pass the most extreme, intrusive, and controlling laws. Some are even trying to limit people’s right to travel from one state to another, targeting anyone who helps a person from a state that bans abortion get care in a state that permits it. It reminds me of the old fugitive slave laws that forced free states to help slave states deny people their freedom.

Unfortunately, overturning Roe is just one of the harmful decisions handed down by the Trump Court.

The Court intervened in voting rights cases to protect gerrymandering designed to limit Black voters’ access to political power. This comes on top of other rulings gutting the Voting Rights Act.

The Trump Court went after sensible regulation of guns. The far-right justices overturned a New York law more than 100 years old that required people to show a good cause to get a permit to carry concealed firearms.

Communities that are already suffering from the effects of gun crime are likely to experience even greater violence now that the court has robbed public officials of options and given the extremist pro-gun political agenda the power of law.

The court also further dismantled the separation of church and state, which protects religious freedom and preserves equality under law for people regardless of their religious beliefs. The Trump court took a wrecking ball to this pillar of American society. It is forcing states to divert tax dollars to religious schools, like some Southern states did when they funded white evangelical segregationist academies that emerged in resistance to the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawing racially segregated public schools.

This court has made it easier for public officials, like teachers, to coerce students into prayer or other religious practices. This is a very clear threat to anyone whose faith is different from the one dominant in their community or state.

In other words, the U.S. Supreme Court, which we counted on for generations to uphold civil rights and tear down obstacles to equality, is now acting as an arm of the increasingly aggressive far-right political movement.

How did we get here?

Simple.

Thanks to the anti-democratic Electoral College, Donald Trump was elected in 2016 even though almost 3 million more Americans voted for Hillary Clinton. Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell prevented the Senate from even considering President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nomination so that Trump could fill it instead—and then rushed Trump’s third justice onto the court even as voters were casting ballots to remove Trump from office.

Behind Trump and McConnell was a massively funded, decades-long campaign to build the political power to take control of the judiciary.

In other words, winning the presidency and controlling the Senate gave the far right the power to force its harmful agenda on the American public long after voters rejected Trump. Taking the Court back from the extremists who now control it will be a long-term project. It starts with this year’s elections.

Ben Jealous serves as president of People for the American Way and Professor of the Practice at the University of Pennsylvania. A New York Times best-selling author, his next book “Never Forget Our People Were Always Free” will be published by Harper Collins in December 2022. 

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