I am fed up with flipping through those free movie magazines that the big theatres hand out.
And the part I’m sick of is flipping through the pages and not seeing people of all different colours and backgrounds looking back at me from those pages.
Before I continue my rant about the lack of diversity in Hollywood, I want to acknowledge some of the positive work that has happened to date. I know the movie industry has come a long way. Back in the day, I’m sure if they had movie magazines they would be chalk full of White men only. Now there are a ton of women as well as some amazing actors who are racialized sprinkled throughout the pages as well.
I attribute this progress to the tireless work of those who have come before us to break through the structural barriers making it difficult for women and people of colour to participate in the movie industry. These trailblazers challenged people to think outside the box and persisted even in the face of overt racism and sexism.
And we all owe a debt of gratitude to each and every one of them.
But the thing that is really getting me these days when I pick up those magazines is how the people looking back at me from those pages do not reflect the society that we live in.
I remember as a child never seeing one person in those movies who looked like me. Then when I was 18 years old, The Joy Luck Club came out. Now the actors in that film were all cast as Chinese women so it was not an exact match since I am half-Japanese-Canadian but it was a great feeling to be able to watch a movie where all the characters look much more like me.
I remember, however, that a lot of people complained, even movie reviewers I think, that the Asian actors all looked alike so it was hard to follow the plot… And you know what? You would never hear the movie reviewers say the same thing about the movie cast with all White actors. (I wonder if White people have every realized that they also look alike. If you don’t believe me, try picking two White men or women you know and then describing them to a friend without disclosing their names. It would probably go something like…brown hair, kind of tall, brown eyes…you know that woman/guy? And the response would be a confused look from the person listening.)
I have two children now and when they flip through the pages of those movie magazines, I want my children to see people in the pages who look like them, like me and like all the faces of people they go to school with.
We live in Toronto and there are so many people of various ethnicities in our community. The movie magazines do not reflect the faces of the people who actually make up our society. And the fact that it is filled up primarily with White people makes it hard for racialized kids to imagine themselves in those pages and in those movie roles. It also makes it harder for them to see themselves in the inspirational, world-changing roles of superheroes and historical legends depicted in the films.
So I’m going to add my voice to the call for
diversity (strike that word, I think it’s too gentle for what’s needed) active anti-racism work in Hollywood.
But Hollywood is only the tip of the iceberg.
More importantly, our government institutions, our highest courts, our professional bodies are all still dominated by White people (and still in some areas primarily White men) and frankly it’s time for a serious movement of active anti-racism within these institutions.
And guess what?
This movement of active anti-racism is not only the responsibility of racialized people.
White people in these institutions are in positions of power and hold a lot of discretion. And they need to use that power and discretion to take a stand against racism and bias that impact schooling, grading, and hiring practices so that the next generation of children grow up to believe that no matter how they look – no matter what their skin colour is – they can do anything they put their mind to and work hard for.
This is the belief all parents want to instill in their children.
But unfortunately is not yet a true belief for some children in this world.
I used to be a motivational speaker. I remember delivering a talk to kids from an inner city school about dreaming big, working hard, and creating your own reality.
At the end of my talk, a little Black boy came up to me and said: “Are you saying that I could become the next Prime Minister?”
Without hesitation, I said: “Yes.”
He said: “But I have never seen anyone that looks like me as the Prime Minister… are you sure?”
I responded: “Yes, you can do anything you put your mind to.”
As I walked away from that presentation, I questioned whether I was telling him the truth. Could a Black boy become the next Prime Minister of Canada? Should I have told him that I wasn’t actually sure that that would happen in his lifetime?
Since then, Barack Obama became the first Black President of the United States (and this fact should absolutely be celebrated!). But in Canada we have not yet had a racialized Prime Minister.
So this is a call to action to all those White people who are in positions of power and authority to take an active stand against racism.
You currently hold positions of power in key institutions. Use that power to make a change, to step aside to make room for others. Ally yourself with anti-racism movements and understand that yes, this will mean that some fundamental changes need to happen in your life and across your institutions. As White people, you can make a significant contribution to anti-racism efforts. You have the ability to be the change you (and I) want to see in the world.
My hope is that the next time I answer that same question from a little child no matter what their skin colour, I can feel absolute conviction that they can do anything they put their minds to – they can become a superhero, historical legend, Hollywood actor and even Prime Minister.
So let’s work together to change the faces in Hollywood and to change the faces in all the powerful institutions that make up our society. Let’s do this so that every child sees faces like theirs reflects in these important institutions.
And let’s do this important active anti-racism work so that the next time you answer that same question from a child, no matter what their background, you can confidently say: “Yes, absolutely. You can do anything you put your mind to.”