The struggle for racial and gender parity in America can be summed up in two exquisite lines from Robert Browning’s poem, “Andrea del Sarto”: “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?” It’s appropriate that these lines have been quoted so often in pop culture—from The Prestige to The Starter Wife to Star Trek—because it reflects not only America’s approach to diversity in hiring practices, but Hollywood’s. Though the quote inspires us to reach for the unreachable star it also advises us to settle for an imagined place of equality, maybe far into the future or someplace we migrate to after we’re dead. But that’s just not good enough. When it comes to providing equal opportunity to thrive, Americans must grasp in the here and now—Or what’s a Constitution for?
Hollywood’s commitment to diversity has been applauded in the last couple month based largely on two events. First, for five weeks in a row in August and September of this year, films featuring African-Americans dominated the box office. Then, Viola Davis became the first black woman to win an Emmy as lead actress in a drama for her role in How to Get Away with Murder. But these two events don’t actually reflect much progress. They are illusions—the kind of reality-bending special effect that Hollywood is so good at. Just because you think you are seeing more people of color, more women, more LGBT characters, it doesn’t mean the industry is actually diversifying. When we pull back the curtain, the Great and Powerful Hollywood is mostly business as usual. White male business.