George Clooney has spoken out about Hollywood's diversity issues, saying that the real problem lies with studios and their executives, not the Oscars. Diversity has become a hot button topic, reflecting broadening audiences and tastes, but cinema has been slow to catch-up. Hollywood still feels dominated by old white men, especially behind the camera and most certainly when it comes to studio executives.
The debate has become synonymous recently with how the annual awards season maps out. In 2016, the #OscarsSoWhite controversy shook the industry when not a single person of color was nominated in an acting category - and roundly beloved films like Creed and Straight Outta Compton were snubbed. Following a backlash from audiences and stars alike, this led to a drastic shift in how the Academy approached membership, with younger and more diverse members added. In 2017, the scales were a little better balanced, with two of the four acting awards going to black actors and Moonlight winning Best Picture. However, one previous winner wants to make clear the Academy shouldn't be the center of the debate.
Speaking to IndieWire at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) where his new film, Suburbicon (which tackles themes of injustice), is premiering, George Clooney discussed Hollywood's diversity issues and highlighted that the problems stem from the wider industry:
"It’s less about the Academy and more about the industry. I think we need to get more interesting young minority filmmakers getting their films out. It was great to see Moonlight do what it did. I’m happy to see that. We need more of those."
Clooney has a strong point to make in that the issue isn't necessarily about films from minority filmmakers being awarded as much as it those movies getting made and promoted in the first place; the Oscars are just reacting to what's out there. Of course, the counter debate is that the Academy, being such a powerful voice, should be making sure it levels the playing field and takes in the full scope. To that, Clooney raised a point of complacency, saying in regards to Moonlight's win "I have a sense that now that’s happened, they’ll be like, well, we did it, and move on." Indeed, the way the 2018 awards season is mapping out, the favorites are movies from mostly white, male directors.
The actor-director-producer expressed similar views in 2016, at the height of #OscarsSoWhite, but there his main target was the Academy for its poor nomination technique. These comments reflect a big change, with a focus on the bigger picture.
More than just trying to correct the point of derision, Clooney also wanted to make clear that the pervasive thinking among studio heads is outdated. In two separate quotes, he talked about the reluctance from studios to cast away of the precedent:
"Clearly, the star system isn’t what it used to be, where you put a name out there and everybody comes to see the movie. So why isn’t Idris [Elba] asked to play this guy? Why isn’t Idris in line for the next Bond? Where is the studio’s imagination?"
"In the ‘30s, seven of the top 10 movie stars were women. Now, it’s really hard for women. There are a few — the Jennifer Lawrences of the world — but mostly, they’re having a tough time and we’re going, ‘Well, why? What’s happened?’ And women aren’t the minority, by the way. The thing is, when a business is run by a certain group of people who can’t see putting a 45-year-old woman as a romantic lead, well, that’s a problem. You need to be able to say, she’s still sexy.”
While the Clooney is doubtful of change, 2017 has taught Hollywood some harsh lessons. He made these comments just as the star-less IT broke several major box office records mere months after A-list vehicles like The Mummy bombed, and some of the year's biggest successes - such as Get Out and Wonder Woman - flew against embedded conventional wisdom. Oscar backlash may not change the industry, but box office receipts could.
- Suburbicon (2017) release date: Oct 27, 2017