The Hollywood Reporter explains its all-white actresses roundtable. It’s awkward.

The Hollywood Reporter Explains Its All-White Actresses Roundtable. It’s Awkward.

The Hollywood Reporter Explains Its All-White Actresses Roundtable. It’s Awkward.

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Nov. 18 2015 3:16 PM

The Hollywood Reporter Explains Its All-White Actresses Roundtable. It’s Awkward.

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A bunch of white ladies.

The Hollywood Reporter

Every year, the Hollywood Reporter coats itself in the gold lacquer of awards-season glamour with its actor and actresses roundtables, featuring some of the most esteemed performers from the most buzzed-about recent films. The stars pose together in gorgeous spreads and speak deeply on their craft while (un)subtly making the case for why they deserve an Oscar nomination. The roundtables signal that the campaign season is underway and help predict what the Academy Awards race will look like in the coming months. This year, if the Hollywood Reporter is any indication, the awards season for actresses—much like last year—will be all white.

Aisha Harris Aisha Harris

Aisha Harris is a Slate culture writer and host of the Slate podcast Represent.

The dearth of women of color getting prime roles on the big screen has always been a problem, even in the unicorn cycles where two or three such women find themselves nominated in the same year. (The last time this happened was in 2012, when Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, the latter of whom won, were nominated for The Help.) But that’s not why I’m writing about the Hollywood Reporter’s whiteout cover. No, the reason I bring this cover to your attention is because reporter Stephen Galloway, who profiled the eight actresses for this year’s roundtable—which includes Kate Winslet, Cate Blanchett, and Jennifer Lawrence—knew that you or I, we conscious observers of Hollywood’s inability to engage with race in a thoughtful way, would see that cover and wonder what was up. And then he decided to pre-empt all of our criticisms by explaining, in a separate piece coinciding with the release of the cover story, exactly why the cover is all white.

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“Even for me, a white man, it was impossible to ignore the fact that every one of these women was white,” he writes. “That was appalling.” Whoo, boy. Can someone give this guy a biscuit, or at least a reassuring pat on the back? All that whiteness coursing through his veins, yet he can still recognize that the Hollywood Reporter cover just might be contributing to the industry’s inherent preference for white stories and white actors over non-white ones. This is good—he’s aware! That’s the first step towards progress.

He notes that a couple of years ago, the roundtable included Lupita Nyong’o, Oprah Winfrey, and Octavia Spencer, and how he had hoped, “perhaps naively, that this represented a sea-change in the film business.” “I was wrong,” he continues, pointing to Viola Davis’ incredibly moving Emmys speech from earlier this year and Spike Lee’s and academy president Cheryl Boone Isaac’s calling out of their industry for its dragging feet on the issue of diversity. He’s done his homework—Stephen’s definitely “down.”

And then he asks the most obvious and necessary question of all: “So who’s responsible?”

Galloway first points to the nameless Hollywood execs—because they always remain nameless, hidden safely under a cloak from direct, pointed criticism—who so often fail to hire black (and other non-white) directors, producers, and fellow execs. But in a truly brave, soul-baring confession, Galloway also blames himself and his colleagues for perpetuating this white-as-default mentality. (Well actually, first he drops in Hollywood Reporter’s “time and money [spent] launching a mentoring program for under-served girls that is now about to enter its seventh year.”) For instance, for a recent directors’ roundtable, he went with the uninspired choice of old white guy Ridley Scott, who helmed The Martian, over F. Gary Gray, black director of the highest-grossing biopic of all time, for the coveted last spot. He regrets this choice now, but fear not, Galloway is sleeping OK at night: “At least I can take comfort in having three men of color on our upcoming actors roundtable,” he opines.

The Hollywood Reporter’s preemptive deflection of the backlash for its so-very-white cover may just represent a new era in America’s racial climate. It’s definitely a sign that things have gotten weird when a major publication is aware of its own lack of imagination, indulges it anyway because it's the easiest thing to do, and then tries to quell the criticism before anyone has had a chance to see the result. Galloway is probably right that when this roundtable was put together in early September, there were no actresses of color in the awards season conversation—I’ve felt this way since the Toronto and New York film festivals came and went, and have made note of it publicly. (A few folks have since offered Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a long-shot contender for the forthcoming NFL drama Concussion.) Galloway’s companion piece somehow manages to be defensive and self-congratulatory at once in rejecting any accusations of the Hollywood Reporter’s lack of unawareness. But that's not the same as being part of a solution. Sorry—these days, simply being aware is not enough.