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2017-02-26 21:46:16
Mediator: Assailing the White House From Hollywood’s Glass House

LOS ANGELES — And the award for best political stemwinder goes to …

After a movie awards season that was already one for the political history books, it was the Oscars’ turn to speak truth to power from a place of privilege on Sunday night.

On Saturday, when the actor Casey Affleck used an acceptance speech at the Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica — a warm-up act for the Oscars — to call President Trump’s policies “un-American” and “abhorrent,” it created the expectation that the stars gathering this weekend were going to go into full-on political-cultural warrior mode. Early in the program, as mostly technical awards were handed out, that had not yet happened.

Mr. Trump’s words and deeds seem to have this effect on a whole bunch of people. And the celebrity calculation was, clearly, that a moment in front of a huge audience, at a time of such upheaval, should be used as an opportunity to say something big.

But you have to wonder: Who do our stars think they’re winning over with political oratory that comes amid such a bacchanalia of self-celebration and haute couture, some of it costing as much as the average American’s home down payment? A poll by The Hollywood Reporter last week found that two-thirds of Trump voters turn off awards shows at the first hint of politics.

And, for all the talk of inclusion in the political speechifying leading up to the Oscars, how inclusive is Hollywood’s own house, anyway?

The answer is not very — to a woeful degree.

Start by acknowledging and celebrating the obvious: After two straight years of #OscarsSoWhite controversy, the Academy Awards had an impressive number of nominations for black actors, black producers — and, for only the fourth time ever, a black director — many of whom worked on movies that told powerful stories about black life in America.

But no one in Hollywood seems willing to make any bets that this will be the start of a lasting trend.

This year’s nominations didn’t change the fact that the number of minorities in the ranks of studio executives remains woefully low; that the female director continues to be that rarest of species (this is yet another year without a woman among the directing nominees), and that the consequences for bad behavior — alleged or confirmed — still seem to go by a sliding scale based on whom your connections are or your potential at the box office.

And all the celebration of the black nominees this year was tempered by what-about-us complaints from Asian-Americans, Hispanics, women — whose nominations declined in nonacting categories compared with last year — and older Americans.

“The OscarsSoWhite hashtag has to be viewed as a synecdoche for ‘industry so white,’” said Franklin Leonard, the founder of The Black List, a script crowdsourcing site. “If you view #OscarsSoWhite as being only about more nominations for black actors at the Oscars, then you totally missed the point, and a lot of people did miss the point.”

Hollywood’s diversity issues, of course, aren’t all that different from those of corporate America, the United States Senate or, I might add, the news industry.

Mr. Leonard’s argument is that in Hollywood, the more diverse the executive ranks, the better the chance for diversity in storytelling. As The Atlantic reports in its latest issue, his list — which anonymously polls top studio executives on the best scripts they’ve read — has helped push into production great screenplays that did not have obvious, bankable appeal, like “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Spotlight,” both of which won best picture.

This year’s more diverse Oscar slate centered on unexpected hits like “Moonlight” (about a black youth struggling with his sexual identity in abusive home and school environments); “Hidden Figures” (about unheralded black, female mathematicians at NASA during the space race); and “Fences” (based on the August Wilson play about the generational struggles of a working-class black family in Pittsburgh).

Some of the nominees from those films — Octavia Spencer in “Hidden Figures,” Viola Davis in “Fences” and Mahershala Ali in “Moonlight” — “have been in the industry forever,” Mr. Leonard noted. “But the rise of a new generation of filmmakers and the slow realization that diversity can result in box office results has finally given many of these actors roles that are worthy of their talents.”

Slow, however, is the operative word.

Janice Min, a part owner of The Hollywood Reporter, told me that Hollywood still runs “like a series of private country clubs” where who’s in and who’s out depends on membership committees largely controlled by Hollywood power brokers who are overwhelmingly white and male.

“As any sociology major will tell you, people flock to people they know and people that are like them,” Ms. Min said.

That was evident, for instance, when the “Jurassic World” producer Frank Marshall told /Film in 2015 that he and Steven Spielberg had taken a chance and hired the relatively unknown Colin Trevorrow to direct the big-budget movie after another white male director in their clique, Brad Bird, said he “reminds me of me.” Women in town noticed.

Ms. Min became so fed up with the lack of progress for women in Hollywood that she announced that same year that The Reporter was going to stop its rankings for women in its “Power 100” list. The ranking, she wrote, pitted women against each other when they needed to band together in the face of their many obstacles here.

The magazine’s current list of Hollywood’s most powerful — people “with the ability to say ‘yes’ and get a show made or a movie made,” as the magazine’s editorial director Matthew Belloni described it — has its share of women in the top 25, including the Universal Pictures chairwoman Donna Langley; Dana Walden, a co-chief executive of Fox Television; and Oprah Winfrey.

But it was otherwise short on blacks, Hispanics and Asians. The studios I reached out to last week weren’t eager to speak to me about the issue, perhaps because the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is weighing whether to bring a lawsuit against the major studios over charges the American Civil Liberties Union brought that the studios discriminated against women in hiring decisions for directors.

The A.C.L.U. pointed to research by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism showing that women had accounted for only 1.9 percent of the directors of the top 100 grossing films in 2013 and 2014.

The author of that research, Stacy L. Smith, said in an interview that part of the problem had to do with myths throughout the industry — that women don’t want to direct big-budget blockbusters, for instance, or that certain movies won’t make money.

Ms. Smith said she saw the success of “Hidden Figures” as pivotal because it would speak to Hollywood in its favorite language: cash. “Here we have a film not only nominated for best picture but is financially lucrative,” she said, with black female characters “in dynamic, intriguing roles.” It had generated nearly $170 million in worldwide receipts as of last week, Bloomberg reported.

As The Times reported in January, some saw race as a factor in the way Nate Parker’s film, “Birth of a Nation,” lost its luster after the resurfacing of a case in which Mr. Parker was acquitted of charges that he raped a female student while at Penn State. However, Casey Affleck cruised to a best actor nomination for “Manchester by the Sea” despite having settled sexual harassment allegations made against him in two civil suits (he denied the allegations).

Also, this year’s awards saw a second chance for Mel Gibson, whose best director nomination for “Hacksaw Ridge” came just over 10 years after he made anti-Semitic and misogynist remarks during a drunken-driving arrest.

It was around the same time that Mr. Trump was caught on tape by “Access Hollywood” bragging about grabbing women’s genitals.

Mr. Gibson, of course, is an actor and director. Mr. Trump is now president. Given the events of the past few weeks, it’s easy to see why he would draw a slew of political Oscar speeches this year.

But Hollywood’s judgment would go a lot further if it directed some of that political energy back at itself.