Has diversity in Hollywood fixed itself? Not even close. 'A Wrinkle in Time' director Ava DuVernay speaks out

Ava DuVernay

A Wrinkle in Time is hitting theaters this coming weekend. Directed by Ava DuVernay, best known for her work on Selma (2014) and 13th (2016), the new Disney adaptation has been turning heads and making headlines ever since it was initially announced.

A Wrinkle in Time marks the first time a woman of color, DuVernay, has been given the chance to direct a film with a budget larger than $100 million.

While many have been applauding this benchmark moment in history, Ava DuVernay — who is often considered a voice for gender equality and minority inclusion in Hollywood — cautioned against thinking that diversity problems within the business have suddenly been solved.

“I’m an anomaly,” DuVernay said to The Hollywood Reporter. “[Black Panther’s] Ryan Cooler is an anomaly, [Moonlight’s] Barry Jenkins is an anomaly, [Mudbound’s] Dee Rees is an anomaly. When you can name us all on two hands, that’s not change.

There was a time when Hollywood said, ‘We will tell your story. That didn’t feel like what I knew as a black girl, but it’s an interpretation, not a reflection, and that’s valid. But we’re in a dynamic time right now, telling our own stories.

These are moments that are not sustainable unless there’s systemic change. We sit on top of a broken system. Unless there is systemic change, we’re just the sparkly stuff on top that makes people feel good.”

A couple things here. Before we continue, however, I want to point out my own place in all of this. I’m a white, young male who has benefited — both directly and indirectly — off of certain regiments placed within the system. I am not, and have never been, in Ava DuVernay’s situation of having been excluded for so long, and therefore my thoughts should be treated as such.

That being said, she’s entirely right.

That’s not meant to take away from any of the incredible success we’ve had in the past couple of years, and I think Ava DuVernay would agree with me here. Inclusion in Hollywood is a movement that’s been happening and has been rapidly picking up speed. Moonlight winning Best Picture, Black Panther making more money in its opening two weeks than Justice League made in its entire run and DuVernay being handed A Wrinkle in Time only affirm this.

The ‘Me Too’ movement also has been pointing towards change, working to get those in Hollywood who have been creating problems out of the system, and hopefully replacing them with people who are there to promote change and diversity.

That doesn’t mean the problem has been solved over-night in such a clean fashion.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve read article upon article praising Black Panther and all the work it has done to give power to African-Americans. Which is great, of course. The fact that we have a mainstream Marvel movie celebrating African culture and featuring an almost entirely all black cast is something we should be praising.

Praising and demanding to see more of, which is where the real trouble lies.

People point at things like Black Panther and Moonlight, saying that Hollywood’s diversity problem is suddenly fixed. After all, now that we have these films, it proves there’s a place for minorities in Hollywood, right?

Well, it should, but I'm going to point back to Patty Jenkins and her story to illustrate how that's not necessarily the case.

Think back to 2003, when the Charlize Theron film Monster was released and nominated for an Oscar. At the time, people were saying the same thing about female directors — now that Jenkins made this award-worthy film, the problem has been solved and there's a place for women as directors now.

It then took her fourteen years before she was given Wonder WomanFourteen. Yes, even with all the positive press she gained from Monster, she had to lobby and push to be trusted with this property — the main reason being the major studios were afraid to give it to a woman.

Why though? Why weren't people pushing for Jenkins to reappear? Because, simply, she had fallen out of the public conciseness. People praised Monster, patted themselves on the back for being more inclusive and then went on doing exactly what they were doing before, without changing a thing.

Basically, I think Ava DuVernay is worried about the same thing happening here. The Hollywood system is one that’s made to keep people out. We, as Americans, have been programmed to like a certain thing from our films and movie stars. While we celebrate the diversity that Black Panther offers, we can all too quickly fall back into the same routine. Diversity, plain and simple, is something many people — at least us white males who haven't had to deal with the problems others have — don’t think about when viewing a film. We notice it when it stands out, but we don’t notice it when it disappears.

Which means, if we're not careful,  this entire movement has the chance to collapse on itself. Should it suddenly disappear and we get another 20 superhero films with all white casts and leads, most people wouldn’t think anything of it. That’s a problem.

Ava DuVernay is right to be concerned and right to keep pushing for diversity in these times. We’ve made great strides, yes, but the race is still in it’s earlier stages. We’ve only truly won when we reach this unconscious stage of viewing that still does include all genders, races, orientations, etc. When we start getting average or even bad films directed by people of color, ones that don’t necessarily make headlines left and right like A Wrinkle in Time, that’s when we’re really getting somewhere.

Perhaps, then, unconscious is the wrong word to use in this situation. Perhaps it’s on us to make this happen. We know, from the past, that Hollywood only reacts when the people demand it to react. The system is never going to change unless we adamantly and passionately push for that change.

That means we, even as viewers and casual movie-goers, have a hand in all of this. Seek out the movies directed by females and people of color. Watch things that you might not be used to seeing and don’t rely solely on the big studio blockbusters. You vote with what you want to see by your wallet — should you go see movies like A Wrinkle in Time, Hollywood will take note and continue in that direction.

So, yes, that means it's on us to keep the movement going. No pressure, but let's try not to screw this one up. Ava DuVernay accurately points out that we’re only in the beginning stages. While a 45-year-old African-American woman being handed a budget over $100 million for the first time is an incredibly important event, I look forward to the day when this happens every other week in Hollywood.

We’re not there yet. But let’s try to be.

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