Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in Fences
Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in Fences
Paramount

Black Actors Are Award Contenders, but Pressure on Hollywood Diversity Remains

After two years of being shut out of the Academy Awards' top acting categories, African-Americans are poised to be praised this year. The two-year shutout inspired the #OscarsSoWhite social media campaign, serious criticism of the entertainment industry's white ways, a revolution at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and a boycott of the Oscars.

But just because the likes of Moonlight or Fences stars Viola Davis and Denzel Washington are getting critical praise and Golden Globes nominations doesn't mean the pressure is off. Najee Ali of Project Islamic Hope helped to organize last year's Oscars boycott. He says, "I'm committed to the boycott and the protests" this year.

Why? Frankly there's a sense that, when black actors succeed and attract kudos for a year, Hollywood studios believe their job is done on diversity. The struggle remains, however, for women, Latinos, Asan-Americans and LGBT actors.

Ali acknowledges that Hollywood's biggest problem is with Latinos, the largest ethnic demographic in California and a group that claims one out of two inhabitants in Los Angeles County. According to the last UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report, Latino actors filled only 5 percent of the scripted broadcast roles that researchers examined. "Representing nearly 18 percent of the U.S. population in 2014, Latinos were the most underrepresented among the minority groups, by a factor of more than 3-to-1," according to the report.

It remains to be seen if awards season will recognize Latino talent. Lin-Manuel Miranda was nominated for a Golden Globe for his Moana song, "How Far I'll Go," and other nominations recognize Latino television talent that isn't eligible for the Academy's film nods. Latinos are otherwise absent in Hollywood. "You're in L.A, you've got to try not to hire Mexicans," Chris Rock famously said in 2014. A USC report last year found Latinos received 5.8 percent of all speaking roles, including film and TV, researchers examined.

For that reason, Ali says, the fight's not over. "I'm going to commit to leading the charge," he says. "There are other groups still underrepresented by Hollywood."

For years, the National Hispanic Media Coalition has been trying to get the industry to hire Latinos. It has had success placing writers with network shows and compelling broadcasters to report their behind-the-scenes diversity numbers each year. But the struggle, clearly, remains — particularly in film.

"Latinos are just left out of the equation," says NHMC president-CEO Alex Nogales. "We're going to have to get militant about the whole situation."

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