The following post refers to writer, director and actor John Krasinski’s recent comments about diversity in Hollywood.
I preface by stating that I appreciate John’s response here. He is saying the right things, and that demonstrates a generational evolution in the industry, especially when you consider what Michael Caine and Charlotte Rampling have recently added to the conversation.
While I appreciate John’s words, I also think his career has contributed to, and stemmed from, the problem itself. This includes, but is not limited to, his most recent effort with 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. There’s something to be said for the tremendous amount of privilege he wears as he walks through this industry – not to mention this world. Somehow, Hollywood keeps greenlighting his projects, even though they fail to turn a profit (feel free to look up box office results for Aloha, Promised Land, Big Miracle, Something Borrowed), even though they fail to garner critical acclaim (feel free to fact-check at Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic), even though they fail to win awards, even though they fail as pieces of art that push our generation forward to shed light on stories culled from diverse intersections of race, gender, class and orientation. Again and again, this industry greenlights him to write and direct and act, even though any one of the above failures would have been reason enough not to keep funding films about women, about people of color, about lives in poverty, about LGBTQ experiences. For my purposes today, I’m not even going to unpack how these white, heterosexual and male institutions – film distribution, film critique, awards committees and our very own culture – impact the so-called ‘success’ of a film. I’m just going to take these flawed instruments at face value, and examine John’s career against their measures of ‘success’. And here is what I find:
Even though his many projects have failed in every way a film can fail, he still gets money to make and distribute more. Consider that for a moment. It’s not inconsequential. What does it mean when his words speak out for representation, but his entire career – in an industry built to create images that influence our cultural possibilities – is premised upon the critical misunderstanding that white heterosexual men are always interesting and exclusively bankable?
Now imagine what a difference it might make if John (and many others like him) took that privilege and partnered to co-create a project with a woman, with a person of color, with a person that comes from a different class background, with an LGBT or Q person. Imagine if he wasn’t just talking, and sounding good, but factually and actively being an ally. Imagine if he shared his podium, and let someone else use the mic.
Now that would be a turning point.
Perhaps I’m giving Charlotte Rampling too much credit here, but while she phrased her comments poorly, what she was getting at was true: there were no acting Academy Award nominations for non-whites because there weren’t enough Academy Award-type roles being played by non-whites this year. The only non-white roles that had a realistic shot at a nomination were Will Smith (Concussion) and Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation), and even then those two were more on the insecure side, especially since neither of those two movies were in serious contention for Best Picture nominations.
That doesn’t reflect racism in the Academy; it reflects racism in the industry. And even then I would hesitate to say that it’s conscious intentional racism; I think it’s more a symptom of the film industry’s general resistance to any kind of change.
Blaming John Krasinski for not getting more roles for non-whites seems a little unfair. He only has a few writing/producing/directing credits to his name, and none of them were big blockbuster movies or critical darlings. Of the four movies you specifically cited, the only one where he did anything besides act was Promised Land (where he was a writer and producer). He probably has little power to produce more non-white acting roles.