In the midst of a tumultuous summer, marked by strikes and demands for fairness, Black Hollywood is facing a pivotal question: Will the solidarity seen on the picket lines endure? The ‘hot labor summer’ brought together a diverse spectrum of voices within the entertainment industry, but the question remains whether this unity will translate into lasting change for Black actors and writers.
One cannot help but admire the optimism of Brian Michael Smith, an actor celebrated for breaking barriers as the first Black transgender man cast as a series regular on network TV. During the strikes that saw tens of thousands of SAG-AFTRA members joining the Writers Guild of America on picket lines, Smith highlighted the dual nature of the struggle. While individuals fought for their rights and freedom, a recognition emerged that all marginalized groups were interconnected. Capitalism, with its potential to marginalize, became a common enemy.
The strikes were not without reason. Hollywood’s actors and writers were united in their resistance against the rampant use of artificial intelligence and their demands for fair residuals payments. The studios eventually yielded to the Writers Guild of America on these fronts. However, amidst this broader solidarity, Black actors and writers grappled with their unique set of challenges.
For Black individuals in Hollywood, the battle for fairness extends beyond the strike lines. They have long confronted underrepresentation, racial bias, meager pay, cutthroat competition, typecasting, and the industry’s misguided belief that Black stories have limited appeal unless centered on slavery or ‘white saviors.’
As the strikes disrupted budgets and households, a fundamental question looms for Black Hollywood: Will the solidarity witnessed on the picket lines translate into meaningful and lasting change? Recent history offers little cause for optimism. Despite movements like #OscarsSoWhite and #MeToo, the entertainment industry still falls short in terms of representation.
A recent analysis by USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative paints a stark picture. From 2007 to 2022, Hollywood made minimal progress in on-screen representation for women, people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, and people with disabilities. While there was a slight uptick in leading roles for these groups, the numbers remain far from satisfactory.
The disparities aren’t limited to on-screen roles. In 2020, only 37% of TV writers were people of color, as reported by the WGA West Inclusion & Equity Report. Additionally, Hollywood has often fallen short on its commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion, with diverse cast-led shows canceled and top-level DEI executives shown the door.
Black actors like LaNisa Frederick and Danielle Pinnock have been vocal about the empty promises made during the racial reckoning of 2020. Despite pledges for representation, opportunities for Black creatives have often remained elusive.
Moreover, one demand that deserves more attention relates to hairstyling and makeup. Black actors have called for access to professionals who understand their hair textures and skin tones. However, studios have agreed to this only for principal performers, leaving background actors underserved.
The Thin Veil of Progress
Despite the push for diversity, inclusion, and equity, some, like writer Jake Lawler, view these efforts as a ‘thin veil.’ Lawler, who transitioned from college football to Hollywood, predicts a contraction in opportunities for individuals like him as the industry seeks cost-cutting measures.
The Toll on Black Hollywood
While the strikes have affected everyone, the burden has fallen heavier on Black Hollywood. As the saying goes, when white Hollywood catches a cold, Black Hollywood gets the flu. The struggle continues, with Black actors persistently fighting for meaningful change in an industry rife with challenges.
In conclusion, the ‘hot labor summer’ saw a moment of unity within Hollywood, but the question remains: Will ‘hot labor summer’ solidarity last for Black Hollywood? As the industry grapples with systemic issues and inequality, it is imperative that the momentum gained during the strikes translates into tangible and enduring progress for Black actors and writers.
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