The lack of diversity in Hollywood is not a new problem. It actually mirrors the long-standing dialogue about diversity and inclusion in multinational corporations. This year’s Oscars, however, have highlighted the issue and sparked conversation over the lack of representation and recognition of people of color.
For the second year in a row, there is not a single person of color in the 20 nominees within acting categories, despite impressive performances in films such as “Straight Outta Compton”and “Beasts of No Nation.”People of all races within Hollywood have been speaking out against the lack of diversity and demanding change. In response to the criticism, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced changes to its membership structure intended to promote member diversity.
This issue speaks to a talent management system breakdown that might sound familiar: What are the access points for acting roles (jobs)? How does one move up to become an “A-lister” (succession planning and promotion)? Who speaks up for you when you are not in the room seeking the next opportunity (sponsorship)? Some actors and filmmakers have praised these changes, but many say it’s still not enough. A number of prominent members of the film industry — Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith, Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee — have announced they will boycott the Oscars and even encouraged host Chris Rock to step down.
This raises a question for those outside Hollywood: Should we boycott the Oscars? As people who care about diversity, and as global leaders trying to make a positive difference, what is the best way to uphold our values? There are good arguments on both sides.
Boycott the Oscars to take a stand.
In a Facebook post, Jada Pinkett Smith wrote, “At the Oscars, people of color are always welcomed to give out awards … even entertain, but we are rarely recognized for our artistic accomplishments.” In a video, she continued, “Begging for acknowledgement, or even asking, diminishes dignity and diminishes power.”
In a way, boycotting the Oscars shows that you do not respect the Academy’s authority to give out recognition. A boycott implies that they have betrayed our trust in their judgment. A boycott also places pressure on the Academy by withdrawing prestige, viewership and money. Lowering the Oscars’ viewership statistics sends a clear message. After all, if nobody is watching, the Oscars have lost their power.
Stay involved to push for change.
Other people advocate working with the Academy to promote diversity and bring about change. Oscar-winning director Roger Ross Williams — the first African-American to win an Academy Award for directing — requested that people not boycott the Oscars. In a column for Hollywood Reporter he wrote, “Staying away from something that needs change is no way to change it. Instead, let’s help them lead the way in promoting diversity in Hollywood.” He recognizes that the Academy’s decisions have been problematic but praises their latest changes. He believes the best way to make positive change towards diversity is to be an active presence in the institution.
Ross Williams is not the only one making that point. In a letter to the editor of the Los Angeles Times, an Iowa citizen said he would like to see the front rows of the Oscars filled with people of color. From this perspective, a protest can take the form of a positive presence as well as it can be an absence.
These kinds of question have implications outside the Academy as well. When we see things that go against our values, should we try to change them from inside, or should we show our discontent by removing ourselves, along with our skills and resources?
The 19th Annual PwC CEO Survey revealed that CEOs are concerned about how they communicate their organizational values and purpose. They’re also concerned about how they use talent to transform their organizations. They recognize that their global talent management systems are in need of a reboot to help balance today’s performance against future growth goals. The Oscars are a case study for what CEOs across the globe are dealing with.
Monica P. Hawkins is CEO of PPDG and is an adviser to Fortune 1000 C-suite executives across the globe, focusing on alignment of business objectives with talent management systems and learning agendas.