African American Women in Hollywood: Are We Really Making Progress?

Throughout history, the accomplishments of minorities can sometimes go underrated. Their daily work, contributions to society, and role in civic life often goes noticed. As time has gone on, society has aimed to acknowledge the success of all people, regardless of their class, age, or race. However, this comes about in a very ironic way. Regularly in the news, issues of race, prejudice, and judgement are heavily publicized. Members of society are very quick to sound off on their opinion, and it often feels like the United States remains a country divided by the color of someone’s skin despite its claims to the acceptance of diversity. At the same time, when a minority celebrity is recognized for their work, the same people that may issue racist claims on a regular basis at people on the news are the first people to tweet about how happy they are to see men and women of color recognized in Hollywood.

The contradictory nature of this issue is often not shown, but it is very important to consider. In recent news, famous African American actress, Viola Davis, has been nominated for an Oscar for “Best Supporting Actress”. Following last year’s “#OscarsSoWhite” trend, some believe that the Academy is correcting last year’s wrongdoing. However, there is more to be considered. Davis, who starred opposite Denzel Washington in the film version of August Wilson’s “Fences”, has been nominated in the supporting actress category when many would consider her position in the movie as a lead role. While Viola Davis has broken a record in the fact that she is the first African American actress to ever earn three oscar nominations, she has not yet taken home a win. Reports suggest that Davis and Paramount pictures thought Davis would have the best shot at winning if she competed in the supporting actress category rather than “Best Actress” which is for a woman who served as a lead role.

While some people view Davis’s success as remarkable, which it is, it could be shown that Hollywood critics still show a significant favor toward white actors and actresses. Davis, in turn, has appeared to accept that notion and has been placed in a supporting actress category for this reason. Members of the Academy are 94% white, so demographically, Paramount may have considered this fact. Additionally, age may have been considered a factor, as the average age of the winners in the “Best Actress” category is 36 while Davis is 51 years old. Moreover, African American actresses like Octavia Spencer and Naomie Harris are also nominated in Davis’ category. The fact that three African American women have been nominated in a single category is a feat. Davis pointed out in her Emmy acceptance speech in 2015, “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”

Other celebrities and people of Hollywood realize that there are still gaps in the industry and, that despite the progress, there is still so much more to be done and still more people that deserve recognition. Lin-Manuel Miranda who wrote “How Far I’ll Go” from the Disney movie “Moana” and even more famously known for writing and starring in “Hamilton” on broadway, spoke out about the diversity that has been accomplished on broadway in the past year. So while some improvements have been made to increase diversity and accept minorities in Hollywood, there is still a gap in culture both publically and in the daily interactions of members of civic life.

While Hollywood and more publically recognized achievements look to increase diversity and acceptance for minorities and people of different races, civic life should work to do the same. If people only can accept the accomplishments of a minority that is an influential figure, but can’t accept their neighbors, what progress can civic life make if our daily lives still lack acceptance on an individual scale? As more people fight for equality  and others become more open with sharing their opinions, it appears as though increased tensions have spread across America. More recently, it seems as though paradoxical viewpoints continue to emerge. People are choosing to be accepting whenever it suits them. A person will speak out for race equality, but then believe there should be a gap between men and women in society. The conflicting nature in which people are presenting views in today’s society is raising tensions like never before.


2 thoughts on “African American Women in Hollywood: Are We Really Making Progress?

  1. First off this was a very interesting and true post. I agree that our society is paradoxical in the sense that a push for diversity and discrimination both still exist eventhough the discrimination is less pronaounced. I think it is definately possible to achieve better diversity in Hollywood but as your post pointed out, the roles and oppertunities jsut aren’t there. This indicates that either Hollywood needs more diversifying films or to stop white washing . Besides African American women, I have noticed that Asian actors and actresses are facing the same problem. Yet I think the film industry in general is slow on the uptake of diversity. I remember when the play version of Harry Potter was relased in England and the media blew up becuase a black woman was cast to play Hermoine. JK Rowling’s respone, “We found the best actress and she’s black,” captures the mentality that the film industry and society as a whole should move towards. That roles should go to those who fit the role best and not necessarily based on the color of their skin. However, I still think that continous work to include women of minorities is nesecary until such a point is achieved. I also agree with your point in the begining where you talked about the media’s reaction to women of color getting nominated and that reacting to their color rather than their accomplishments highlights the gaps in racial equality. No one is ever surprised to hear that a white actor or actress is nominated for a role but when a person of color is, this nomination is treated like such a feat in itself. Hopefully we will progress to a society where women of color can be nominated and achieve awards and be recognized by their accomplishments over just their skin color.

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