LOS ANGELES — The National Action Network is in the final stages of forming a Hollywood diversity committee, according to Najee Ali, NAN’s local political director.
The committee plans to initiate meetings with studio heads to ensure more projects are approved that show a broader range of life experiences after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences failed to nominate any top black actors or actresses for Academy Awards for the second year in a row.
“We want to capitalize on the momentum we have since the whole nation is talking about racism in Hollywood,” Ali said. “For us, it’s not about who wins that silly gold statue but about jobs. People of color can have jobs both in front of and behind the camera.”
A group of activists and industry professionals have solidified their participation in the committee. Members will include Donald Bakeer, the author of “South Central L.A. Crips,” a novel that was adapted into the film “South Central” (Warner Bros. 1992); Tanya Kersey, the director of the Hollywood Black Film Festival; and Darnell Hunt, a sociology professor and the director of UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African-American Studies.
The first meeting is expected to take place next week, and Ali already has a plan on how to appeal to the studios.
“The best way to get anyone to agree is to show them that it’s in their best interest to do so,” Ali said. He cited the success of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the highest grossing movie of 2015 (more than $2 billion worldwide), which starred a female character, Rey (Daisy Ridley) and an African-American man, Finn (John Boyega).
Indeed, Ali said he admires the efforts of the film’s director, J.J. Abrams, in leading the way to address the underrepresentation of women and people of color in the film industry.
After the Oscars, Abrams announced that his production company, Bad Robot, would collaborate with its agency partner CAA and studio partners Warner Bros. and Paramount to guarantee that women and minorities are submitted for writing, directing and acting jobs in direct proportion to their representation in the U.S. population.
NAN would like to see other studios adopt this policy, Ali said, and the committee plans to ensure they follow through. It will publicly release a report card grading the studios on their minority hiring efforts and performance, with recommendations to filmgoers on which projects are worth supporting.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, founder of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable and a member of the committee, said his organization has fought the industry for two decades “to make good on its repeated promise to make diversity a reality and not just pay lip service to it.”
Ali, too, has been pushing for reform for the same amount of time.
“Jobs and economics are most important in our community. That’s what our fight and struggle has always been about,” Ali said. “It’s not just about the stars on the screen, but the businesses who get contracts for catering, flowers, anything needed on a Hollywood set.”
And with the national spotlight on inequality in Hollywood, the committee plans to take their protests further if they fail to see adequate changes in the coming months. They will call for a boycott of not only the 2017 Oscars, but also to selected films, advertisers and the merchandise the studios produce in connection with their films, according to Hutchinson.