Nick Picks | Why is Television More Diverse Than Film?

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Throughout this award season, the big debate hasn’t been over what movie’s going to win Best Picture. It’s all been about who should be blamed for the lack of diversity. For the second year in a row, the Academy didn’t nominate a single performer of color. Considering that 94% of Academy voters are Caucasian and 77% of them are also male, it’s not entirely surprising that the Oscars are so white this year. While the Academy may be part of the problem, the larger issue may be that voters simply didn’t have a ton of diverse movies or performers to chose from.

That’s not to say there haven’t been any diverse performers or filmmakers worthy of Oscar nominations. Last year, David Oyelowo arguably should have received a Best Actor nomination for Selma and Ava DuVernay arguably should have been up for Best Director. Where Selma at least made it into the Best Picture race, Straight Outta Compton only got nominated for Best Original Screenplay this year. Meanwhile, Idris Elba, Will Smith, Michael B. Jordan, and Benicio Del Toro were all snubbed from the acting categories.

Straight Outta Compton

Although these are all notable omissions, it’s still only a handful of colored artists. Let’s face the facts. Most of the movies that come out every year are white dominant with only a few exceptions. So maybe the Academy isn’t entirely to blame here. Hollywood in general just isn’t producing a ton of movies that are ethnically varied. Where the movie industry seems reluctant to change with the times, television has no shortage of diverse programs or performers.

Sure, there are a ton of TV shows that are made up of white ensembles. Now more than ever, though, television strives to represent a wide range of cultures, races, religions, and sexual orientations. Modern Family on ABC certainly helped get the ball rolling with its diverse cast of characters. Come to think of it, ABC’s entire Wednesday night lineup is extremely diverse. Currently, their schedule includes Black-ish, which centers on an African American family, Fresh Off the Boat, which centers on a Taiwanese family, and The Goldbergs, which centers on a Jewish American family. If anything, The Middle is the network’s token “traditional” family show.

Modern Family - Series 06 Gallery Sarah Hyland as Haley, Ariel Winter as Alex, Eric Stonestreet as Cameron, Aubrey Anderson-Emmons as Lily, Jesse Tyler Ferguson as Mitchell, Julie Bowen as Claire, Ty Burrell as Phil, SofÌa Vergara as Gloria, Rico Rodriguez as Manny, Nolan Gould as Luke and Ed O'Neill as Jay. TM and © 2013 Fox and its related entities. All rights reserved. Patent Pending.

Complete with a cast or mainly African American performers, Empire has been an enormous hit for the Fox network. Neflix’s Orange is the New Black also features a widely diverse ensemble, most of which are also female. Speaking females, many current TV shows have empowering women at their core, from Homeland, to How to Get Away with Murder, to Blindspot, to Fargo, to Scandal, to Orphan Black, to Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, to Agent Carter, to Jessica Jones, to Mom, to Broad City, to Veep, to Masters of Sex, to Outlander, to Game of Thrones, to The Good Wife. When compared to women, there honestly aren’t a ton of very interesting male characters on television, especially now that Breaking Bad and Mad Men are over.

TV STILL -- DO NOT PURGE -- EMPIRE: Lucious (Terrence Howard) toasts his family in the "Devil Quotes Scripture" episode airing Wednesday, Jan. 21 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. Pictured L-R: Jussie Smollett, Serayah McNeill, Taraji P. Henson, Bryshere Gray, Grace Gealey, Terrence Howard, Trai Byers and Kaitlin Doubleday. ¨©2014 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: Chuck Hodes/FOX

Granted, there have been a ton of great female-centric movies in recent years too. In 2015, we got Room, Brooklyn, and Mad Max: Fury Road, all of which were nominated for Best Picture. Nevertheless, a lot of the movies that came out last year were admittedly overrun with male stars. It’d be great to see more women take center stage in film, as well as more performers of color. Until then, diversity can always be found on the small screen.

So how come television is so much more diverse than film? Well, part of it’s because television simply takes more chances than movies. It’s pretty sad that in today’s PC world having a person of color in a leading role is considered a risk. Alas, Hollywood just seems to assume that audiences only want to see white men. If all of the hit shows listed above have proved anything, however, it’s that people want diversity.

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As unprogressive as Hollywood can be, there was one particular movie last year that took a huge step forward: Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Our heroes in the original Star Wars films and even the prequels were mostly white men. In The Force Awakens, however, our three main new heroes were a woman, an African American man, and a Guatemalan American man. It should also be noted that the film’s director, J.J. Abrams, comes from a highly successful TV background. From Alias to Lost, Abrams gave us an assortment of shows with diverse casts. He’s taken numerous risks that have paid off. Likewise, Disney took several monumental risks with The Force Awakens that ultimately resulted in big bucks.

Television has learned a lot from movies in recent years, becoming more cinematic and less episodic. Now it’s time for movies to learn from television. TV is growing every year, taking chances with diverse characters and ambitious premises. If movies don’t start doing the same, it’ll inevitably be replaced as the definitive entertainment medium.

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About Nick Spake

Nick Spake has been working as an entertainment writer for the past ten years, but he's been a lover of film ever since seeing the opening sequence of The Lion King. Movies are more than just escapism to Nick, they're a crucial part of our society that shape who we are. He now serves as the Features Editor at Flickreel and author of its regular column, 'Nick Flicks'.

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