The Oscars Are Just The Tip Of The Iceberg

Jeff Valdez
Serial Entrepreneur, Keynote Speaker, President VPI

So here’s the deal, the “Oscars,” are not the problem. They are the end result of the real problem. A problem that begins at the talent agencies, movie and TV studios, and of course, the Academy membership (AMPAS). If a writer/director/actor can’t get an agent, they can’t get into a studio. If they can’t get in the door of a studio, they can’t make a movie, if they can’t make a movie, they can’t win an award, nor join the Academy. To quote Viola Davis from her 2015 Emmy speech, “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.” The good news is the depth of talent in the Latino and Black communities is immense. You just have to have the right team to know where to look.

Creating a more diverse industry is only part of the equation. It’s also about getting rid of the cookie-cutter stereotypes that are so common.

Ironic how Hollywood will rally against anti-Latino sentiments of people like Donald Trump, yet I wonder where Donald and others of his ilk could have ever gotten the notion, that all Latinos are criminals and rapists? Hmmm, surely it couldn’t be from over seventy-years of television shows and movies portraying Latinos as criminals and rapists. They call it “programming” for a reason folks. The industry has done such a thorough job with these negative portrayals, that hell, I’m even afraid of Latinos, and I’m Latino!

A friend of mine last night commented, “I don’t get it. Most of the people in the “biz,” are smart and educated. How could they not see this opportunity?” I countered, “Some honestly still don’t and have an “unconscious bias,” they can’t get past. However, many are very smart and educated and most importantly, “well paid” and I can’t imagine they are going to give up their high paying jobs, for the sake of diversity. Would you?” Is the problem starting to come more into focus?

Perhaps another reason Hollywood hasn’t been able to diversify its ranks, is because they have deployed a “check the box,” approach. One only need look at the various movie billboards around any city. Regardless of the genre of the film, (or TV show for that matter) you will always see one lone black actor on the billboard. The movie could be about a Ku Klux Klan rally at the Artic Circle and there will be one black actor in the cast. If I were from the black community, I would be so offended by this “check the box,” approach which has been going on for entirely too long. Latinos however, have a different problem. Sadly, we wish we could be the one Latino on the billboard, in order that we exist at all in Hollywood.

Recently Google initiated a company wide program that is examining it’s own “unconscious bias,” and that of Silicon Valley, in order to make them an organization that will have long term economic viability. Hollywood could and should do the same. Thus driving home the point that diversity shouldn’t have to be a racial issue, it should simply be a smart business issue!

Case in point. Non-white moviegoers in 2015 bought 46% of all movie tickets nationally. Of that number 23%, was driven by Latinos alone and the balance by Asians and African Americans. What savvy showbiz executive would intentionally ignore, what in the next few years will be the majority of their customers? As a matter of fact, in many of the top U.S. media markets, “People Without Color,” are now the “minority” of movie ticket purchases.

There has been a story circulated for a long time, about how film star Dolores Del Rio’s, husband, Cedric Gibbons, in the late 20’s, convinced Emilio “El Indio” Fernandez, a Mexican director, to pose nude as the model for the Oscar statue (photo enclosed). It has been the subject of many books and articles; easy to find on multiple web sites including Wikipedia, yet has no mentioned on the Oscar web site, hmmm. So to all those people who win an Oscar this year, when you embrace that golden version of “El Indio” Fernandez, think about how next to embrace the rest of us. Not to mention we’re a lot of fun at the after party.

valdez_jeffJeff Valdez is a serial entrepreneur, former standup comic and creative executive. Jeff is passionate about the demographic shift that is happening in America and how to address the multitude of opportunities in this new landscape.
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