The Missing Piece of the Oscars’ Diversity Conversation, Cont'd

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A reader responds to Lenika’s essay examining diversity in Hollywood beyond Black and White—namely to Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans:

I appreciate the inclusion of multiple viewpoints within the rubric of diversity. What some of the commenters on this essay seem to disdain is the idea that everyone wants an award, a good part in a movie, fame, and success just for being from a particular background. May I respectfully suggest that what a lot of people actually want is to see stories that reflect their experience, their intelligence, their sense of compassion, and their sense of complexity. It is a difficult issue to see what any of us (myself included) do not experience directly, but rather filtered, if presented at all, through stereotypes or distant stories that reduce people—real people—to convenient parts of a machine that glorifies someone else.

Did you, on the other hand, have any problems with the piece? Drop us an email. A few more readers sound off:

I would like to make a point regarding the quote from Joel Coen.

I agree with him that shoehorning in a specific type of character in order to appease some general notion of inclusivity is a bad idea because it will be immediately obvious to the audience and it would hurt the story. The Coen brothers’ own biases about the stories they want to tell and the identities of the characters whose stories are told are completely shaped by their experiences. If a casting director, screenwriter, or director has a very narrow experience with specific types of people, then he or she will not even begin to think about casting, writing, or directing for people that do not fit that experience. It doesn’t occur to them that this is the case because they are blinded by their own biases.

The issue is not that we cannot have biases, because that is impossible. We each bring to the table that which we know. But I believe that diversity among casting directors, screenwriters, and directors would translate to a greater proportion of interesting stories about characters that everyone would want to see because they would not be “Black stories,” “Hispanic stories,” or “Asian stories.” They would be stories that happen to include characters whose backgrounds are diverse and no one would need to fill a quota because it would be intrinsic to the scriptwriting and casting process. A plurality of voices in positions of power and influence in film will be needed for this to happen.

This reader also addresses the famed directors:

It’s funny, but as a Latino, I would love to see a movie the Coen Brothers could direct “that involves four black people, three Jews, and a dog,” as they put it. With their irreverent, twisted sense of humor, I honestly think this could work.

And that’s ultimately the problem: So many decision makers in Hollywood have a fantastically cramped view of minority experiences. There needn’t be a quota— just a simple acknowledgment that minorities can also be cast in movies about weirdos in the L.A. suburbs, or darkly comic murder mysteries in Minnesota. It is this severe lack of imagination on the part of Hollywood gatekeepers that is fueling to this growing backlash from minorities.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with an alleged white hipster girl from Williamsburg on The Atlantic’s comments section about Lena Dunham’s exclusion of minorities on her show Girls. This woman was highly offended that minorities would dare challenge Dunham, because Dunham was describing “her” reality, and in “her” reality there were no minorities anywhere. So why should the minorities then butt in and demand that Dunham include them in her show? I had to retort that there are hipsters who are black and Latino, that some live over-privileged, cosseted, prickish lifestyles, and that I know a bunch of them myself. It worried me deeply that Dunham isolates herself (intentionally or unintentionally) so thoroughly in a lily-white island in the most diverse city in the world, where there is a surfeit of overprivileged black or Latino hipsters. The reader got huffy, responded more or less that she wasn’t racist, and we let it go.

But the very act of isolation is the racism that minorities are trying to get some of these gatekeepers to understand. But then the gatekeepers get highly offended, which leads to a backlash of the backlash.  It’s not pretty, but this is how progress happens. This will be a long and hard-fought slog, but Hollywood will be changed. It has happened in other hidebound institutions, and it will happen in this one too.

Another reader wants to broaden the debate:

African Americans are over-represented in the popular music industry compared to other groups. Should that over-representation balance off under-representation in the film/TV industry? Should we start a campaign to reduce African-American involvement in the popular music industry so that underrepresented groups like whites and Asians can chart more hits songs? Should every industry be demographically representative, or is it OK if some demographic groups gravitate to specific industries? And as mentioned in the article, do Africans, Asians, and Latinos count if they are not African-Americans, Asian-Americans or Latinos born in the USA?

Want to tackle one of those questions or any of the points raised thus far? Contribute via We’ll post the strongest arguments from all sides.