|Many in the African-American community felt slighted that none of us were in
contention for an Oscar at the 73rd Academy Awards last month. Although
African Americans support the motion picture industry in droves the industry
does not support us back.
Thirty percent of people pushing movie theater turnstiles are black, but for
films from 1990 through 2000, only 19 non-whites, or about eight percent of
award nominees, were included in the top five categories: leading actor,
leading actress, supporting actor, supporting actress and director. Only two
- Whoop Goldberg (supporting actress in "Ghost") and Cuba Goading, Jr.
(supporting actor in "Jerry Maguire") - actually won.
African Americans are not often in contention for Oscars is because of
economics and race. Hollywood increasingly looks to foreign investors for
financing of film productions and these investors prefer casts with whites as
leading characters. International box office sales - which account for more
than 46 percent of Hollywood's revenues - have shown that dramatic stories
with ethnic leads do not sell as well as those starring white talent. In
order for Hollywood to forge financial deals with international investors
they have to be attuned to each country's cultural and racial sensibilities.
The fear is that those audiences - which have 70,000 movie screens compared
to 32, 000 in the U.S. - will not be able to identify with the roles African
This market is growing seven percent annually, and films with white male
stars tend to be bigger sellers there. For example, Arnold Schwarzenegger's
"The 6th Day" made $34 million in the U.S., but garnered $67 million
overseas. Leonardo DiCaprio's "The Beach" made $39 million here, but raked in
$110 million in foreign markets. By contrast Denzel Washington's "Remember
the Titans" made $115 domestically and only $45 million overseas. Samuel L.
Jackson's version of "Shaft" made $71 million at home, only $14 abroad. With
foreign money accounting for up to 70 percent of a movie or television show's
financing, American producers negotiate content and casting to ensure films
will make money in the international marketplace.
Another reason there is a lack of diversity in Oscar nominations is that
Hollywood is a closed-door and segregated society. Eighty percent of the
heads of each major guild are white men. Twelve of the 15 top executives
with the power to green-light movies at the top studios are white males, and
the other three are white women. Only when African American make their own
films, or when the racial makeup of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts &
Sciences changes - currently 95 percent white - will we see more diversity in
Oscar nominees and winners. Until the time when Hollywood changes, blacks
darn well should find other sources of entertainment.