Beware of the Inclusion Erosion Temptation – The Hollywood Reporter

I never heard or used the word “prosecution” more than in the days after these last Oscars. Having been in the room where it happened, I have been plagued with questions from journalists, friends, family and people I haven’t heard from in a long time. My answer remains the same as I have also heard from others. “I’m still processing what just happened.”

My experiences attending the Oscars in recent years have been steeped in unexpected drama and a constant intersection of public opinion, politics, and race. In 2015, I had a front row seat to the start of #OscarsSoWhite having starred in the movie that helped start it all, selma. Two years later I became part of a viral meme after my reaction was caught on camera when the earth was misquoted as the best picture winner instead of the actual winner, Moonlight.

So it could be argued that when I received my invitation to this year’s Oscars, I should have expected nothing less than to witness yet another dramatic incident where public opinion, politics, and race collide, but like most of us, nothing I could have prepared myself. for what was to come. As a black man in the public eye, you are constantly aware of the fact that your very existence is political. You are constantly in a state of being used as an example to perpetuate or discredit a stereotype. Those stereotypes are tied to criminality, civility, education, sexual prowess, poverty, social responsibility, and much more. It is a burden that I have to accept despite being exhausting by nature.

As I slowly realized the nature of what had just transpired onstage at the Dolby Theater, I was confronted with the same growing anxiety that all blacks feel when the face that appears on the news after it is reported a crime is a black. a. Do you find yourself thinking, “What does this mean for us?” “What does that mean for me?” Very shortly after the now infamous Oscars ceremony, I walked into an Oscars after party and was immediately confronted with what I feared. An older white gentleman came up to me delighting in his behavior and said, “They should have gotten him out of there.” You may agree with that sentiment, but it’s not what he said, it’s the way he said so. I know that taste. I know that behavior, and it’s ugly to the core in all its coded messages.

Since #OscarsSoWhite, the Academy and the entertainment industry have made great strides. Then-President of the Academy, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, despite immense opposition and internal pressure, led the charge to force the Academy to improve its embarrassingly unequal racial and gender demographics. That change clearly led to movies and craftspeople, who would traditionally be ignored, being celebrated in the intervening years. That example had the very welcome effect of permeating our industry. It would be naive to assume that the incident between Will Smith and Chris Rock will not be viewed, by some industry professionals, through the lens of race. Some of them will be the same people who resisted the inclusionary measures that Cheryl Boone Isaacs and her supporters at the Academy were able to push through and that led to a more diverse Academy.

This intersection of personal opinion, politics, and race is the same reason black artists have had to deal for decades with Hollywood’s “big lie” that black movies and artists don’t travel. Will Smith himself had a big hand in debunking that lie. It is also why we have traditionally been celebrated more for playing menial and criminalized roles than empowered and inspiring. It’s why we barely have black executives who have the autonomy to green light anything that gets done.

Following the murder of George Floyd, the entertainment industry made many promises to increase the diversity of our business. Some intentional. some ceremony. My fear is that this unfortunate incident, which has us all processing, will have a negative effect on the continued push for inclusion. There are those who, in an attempt to ensure that something of this nature never happens again, will operate through unconscious or conscious bias. A bias that still governs much of the decision-making in Hollywood. It would be tragic if an attempt to prevent such an incident from happening again becomes an excuse for ideas about inclusion and diversity to back down. That would only confirm the bogus nature of some of these promises in the first place. This incident should not be a springboard for indirect arguments in Hollywood circles about race, respectability, and belonging.

The unfair nature of what happened to Chris Rock and those whose accomplishments were completely overshadowed that night cannot be understated. Will himself has rightly said that his actions were “shocking, painful and inexcusable”. But in all of our processing of what happened, let’s not forget that there is a disposition exemplified by the man who approached me at that after party. His gossipy slant and the half-smile on his face are indicative of what must not be allowed to slip after this incident. We must be vigilant about making decisions that would negatively affect the achievements of The Academy, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, and all those who strive for a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable world and industry of entertainment.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Hollywood, it’s that it’s home to some very good people with good intentions and a number of broken people with bad intentions. I call on good people with good intentions to stay focused on building on the great achievements we have recently made. They must not be eroded by those with bad intentions who would eagerly seek to use this incident as a weapon to derail those achievements and divide us.

David Oyelowo, the author of this guest column, is an actor, director, and producer who has been nominated for Critics Choice, Golden Globe, and SAG Awards.

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