Chris Rock on Hollywood: “It’s a white industry”
Chris Rock is on a roll. First, he was in New York Magazine talking about race and politics, and now he’s written an editorial in The Hollywood Reporter in which he straight up calls out the industry’s ongoing and increasingly depressing diversity problem. Rock is speaking from experience, both as a young guy trying to make it and the one who made it and is now trying to help others out, too. It’s a scathing piece, brutally honest but not sensational.
The biggest problem is that Hollywood is almost exclusively run by white men who tend to favor other white men. I had this conversation recently with an executive at a big-four studio. He was offended that I thought he had a diversity problem on his hands, so I asked him to do a quick scan around his office. How many women are there? At least one, right? Your receptionist, the person who greets your visitors? Any other women? Of your herd of interns, how many aren’t white guys? You got a gay person on your staff? His response? “Well…shit.” He didn’t do it nefariously but as someone who is used to the world working a certain way, he didn’t notice the inherent bias. As Rock says:
“[How] many black men have you met working in Hollywood? They don't really hire black men. A black man with bass in his voice and maybe a little hint of facial hair? Not going to happen.”
Rock goes on to point out that Hollywood is also severely lacking in Latino representation.
“It's the most liberal town in the world, and there's a part of it that's kind of racist — not racist like ‘F*ck you, n***er’ racist, but just an acceptance that there's a slave state in L.A. There's this acceptance that Mexicans are going to take care of white people in L.A. that doesn't exist anywhere else. […]You're telling me no Mexicans are qualified to do anything at a studio? Really? Nothing but mop up? What are the odds that that's true? The odds are, because people are people, that there's probably a Mexican David Geffen mopping up for somebody's company right now. The odds are that there's probably a Mexican who's that smart who's never going to be given a shot.”
It’s a really amazing piece, and Rock nails it. It echoes both Ridley Scott’s assertion that he couldn’t finance Exodus without white lead actors and Rupert Murdoch’s general assholery. It also relates to the recent hiring of Michelle Maclaren, an immensely talented and accomplished television director, to direct the Wonder Woman movie. She’s skilled, experienced, highly qualified, but because she’s a woman the studio made the producers take another look around because “women don’t really make that kind of movie”. That’s the attitude Rock is talking about - the assumption that only white men can do this work, which is patently untrue.
But it’s the status quo. Even in 2014, these biases continue to exist. The upside, though, is that it gets called out more and more frequently, with ever-increasing volume. Rock acknowledges the gains while still highlighting the miles left to go. It’s a great read.