Panel on Diversity

Ben Atwater

On Feb.18, a panel on diversity in the Oscars was held in the Alumni Lounge. Hosted by the Communication Department, this event aimed to take a look at lack of representation of minorities in the both the Academy Awards and media as a whole.

The issue regarding diversity in the Oscars refers to the public outrage at the all-white acting nominees. Many famous and influential celebrities have boycotted the ceremony on the belief that the Academy is institutionalizing racism by not nominating people of color.

The panel was hosted by Wanda Tyler, Director of Intercultural Relations at the University of New Haven. On the panel was Espiraza Humphrey, a junior representing the NAACP club on campus.  Also on the panel was Wes Davis, a senior lecturer for the English Department, who also is a film and popular culture historian, along with Patrick McGrady, a lecturer for the Sociology Department. Rounding out the four person panel was Susan Campbell, a distinguished lecturer from the Communication Department.

Tyler had each panelist give introductions to the topic, in which they all addressed areas of their expertise with regards to diversity in the media. Humphrey started by referring to the NAACP’s club discussions about both the Smith’s boycott of the Oscars as well as Stacy Dash’ comments. For preface, Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith have gone public about their boycott of the ceremony for lack of diversity in the all-white acting nominees. Smith mentioned in an interview with Variety a month ago, “There’s a position that we hold in this community and if we’re not a part of the solution, we’re part of the problem.” Smith was nominated twice for Best Actor for his performances in Ali and The Pursuit of Happiness. By attending those ceremonies, Smith recognized the legitimacy of the Academy, so what has changed now is unclear.

Humphrey did not clarify the club’s position on the Smith’s boycott, but did criticize actress Stacy Dash’s comments last month. Dash said “If we don’t want segregation, then we need to get rid of channels like BET, and the BET Awards and the Image Awards, where you’re only awarded if you’re black.” Dash also called for an end to Black History Month, on the logic that it creates a double standard.

Dash stated that an equal playing field will only be established if there is not racially exclusive offerings like BET and Image Awards. NAACP did not agree with this, and found the notion of a White History Month ludicrous.

McGrady brought up several points about Dash’s statement being strategic in nature and part of a Marxist ideology to have a member of a targeted group declare an issue of contention a nonissue. McGrady continued to illegitimatize Dash’s comments as they came out with her statements on Fox News. McGrady called the FCC licensed network an oxymoron because it does not report real news.

Davis called to light the forgotten Black Cinema of the 1940s, a competitor to Hollywood that focused on giving Black actors a chance to star in all sorts of films from Westerns to horrors, as they were often not given roles in Hollywood productions beyond stereotypes created in film. Davis referenced the significance of McDaniel’s win in 1939, in which she played a stereotype of a Black slave who took the house maid figure. Of course, in the Civil War in the Deep South where Gone with the Wind takes place, it would be a misrepresentation of history to show anything otherwise.

Susan Campbell gave a presentation within the panel titled “Media Matters,” in which she addressed the misrepresentation of minorities. Campbell explained the Bechdell Test, a method by which to measure a film’s representation of women. To pass, a film must have at least two named female characters that talk to each other about something besides a man. An adaptation of the Bechdell Test called the Duvernay Test has been developed, in which to pass a film must five minority characters substantive roles outside of their prescribed stereotypes. Campbell urged to cease watching programs that fail these tests, as with lower viewership these programs will not get renewed.

After the key notes answered Tyler’s questions, the floor was opened up to questions from the audience. Many individuals asked questions, and gave insightful outlooks on representation in the media.