Gender, Movies, Race, Racism

The Ill-Excused Whiteness of The Hollywood Reporter Roundtable

There was a minor kerfluffle on Twitter this week when The Hollywood Reporter tweeted out their “Hollywood Roundtable” cover featuring eight actresses to talk about their films, the industry, and the Oscars.

Let’s take a look:

All great actresses, to be sure, but it felt like there was something missing. In less then an hour, THR followed up with this tweet:

Ah, yes, women of color were missing from this roundtable about women in the film industry. Like Vanity Fair in 2010, THR’s cover declares that only white actresses were deemed notable enough to be representatives of the industry in their annual roundtable.

Unlike most other magazines, however, it seemed that THR was aware this was a problem. Stephen Galloway, one of the editors of the magazine, penned a sincere-sounding column lamenting the fact that as they selected women to participate in their roundtable, a shocking discovery was made: no women of color seemed to be “serious contenders” for an Oscar this year. This “lamentable” fact was given as the reason for why every actress on the cover is white.

But the real reason is, of course, because THR decided not to put any women of color on the cover.

Galloway’s editorial ends in a mea culpa, derailing what might have at least been an alright cover-your-ass response to Twitter (mostly Black Twitter) tearing them to shreds. And you could read it charitably; Galloway probably does feel bad that there seem to be no diverse movies in the mix this year. But Galloway wants to have his cake and eat it too. When explaining the convoluted Oscar cycle, he writes:

Part of the promotional cycle includes taking part in one of THR’s Roundtables. These are glossy and engaging, visually and verbally entertaining, and at times even substantive. Few A-listers have not participated in one through the years, and there’s often a campaign before the campaign to get the right clients on board.

THR acknowledges that it’s part of the expected media circus that is awards season in Hollywood, that they help shape the conversation of who is in serious contention for that little gold statue. Actors jockey to get invited, even! But THR wants to simply set itself up as an innocent by-stander in the Oscar process, unable to do anything but accept that they will only interview and photograph white women:

So who’s responsible? The Academy drew flak for failing to nominate Selma in many categories, but the Academy doesn’t make films, any more than The Hollywood Reporter does: It recognizes work that the industry creates.

[…]

Unless the half-dozen men and women now running the major studios demand and foster a culture of diversity, the status quo will continue as it is. And I’ll be writing a mea culpa every year.

There’s nothing Galloway and the other editors of THR could do, he tells you, but at least give them points for trying, right? He knows it was a bad decision and indicative of systematic racism in the film industry, and THR is simply falling in line with the rest of media and presenting the actresses they think may be nominated for an Oscar.

But you can’t get points for recognizing racism if you don’t use your self-declared influence to change anything. THR selects its roundtable participants based on Oscar buzz—but who creates Oscar buzz? The actors, studios, and other publications, including THR itself. They were given an opportunity to shake things up, to shed light on actors who may have been shoved out of the award cycle and overlooked, and instead of doing the bold thing, THR played it safe.

Have most of the prestige films out this year been white? I’ll give him that—most of the awards buzz is going to films fronted by white women. But a quick glance at IndieWire’s list of potential nominees for Best Supporting Actress has Helen Mirren (for Trumbo) listed lower than Mya Taylor from Tangerine, and Phylicia Rashad for Creed higher than both of them. It’s not as though not a single film featuring a strong performance by a women of color was made or even won awards on the independent circuit. It’s that by highlighting any of these performances, THR would be breaking ranks with the very industry it’s attempting to chastise in it’s weak explanation of their all-white cover.

It’s one thing to recognize that an action is bad, it’s another thing to do so while trying to justify your same actions. If the industry is racist, then THR  editors could do more than simply offer a mea culpa: they could try to change it.