Power and Privilege in Hollywood
By Ashley Duong
With the recent release of Macklemore’s new album “White Privilege II”, people are raving about the deep level of introspection that his album expresses as well as the bravery in his ability to call out his own race on their injustices.
Spencer Kornhaber, writing for The Atlantic, calls the song “both a statement and a demonstration” and “brave,” asking the rhetorical question “Who can attack [Macklemore] for that?” And even though Kornhaber doesn’t see any promising creative value to the song itself, he still acknowledges that the message the lyrics send is powerful, relevant and important.
That’s a good thing. Being introspective and honest about our own privilege, as well as using our power and influence to help those who aren’t in positions of privilege is a duty that everyone should be held accountable to.
What doesn’t sit well with me about the rhetoric surrounding his album is not the fact that he is a white man speaking about white privilege. It’s when the voices of the oppressed begin to get overshadowed by those in more powerful positions speaking on their behalf, then we have a major problem. But that doesn’t seem to be the case with Macklemore’s song. In fact, he does a rather good job of admitting his own faults and makes an effort instead to shine the spotlight on prominent black leaders of important causes.
No, rather it is the fact that this single came out less than a year after the movie “Straight Outta Compton” was released. People were quick and ready to jump on the bandwagon of the movie, mass producing T-shirts and imitating the characters, completely disregarding the obvious inequality and racism that the movie depicts through the story of aspiring black rappers, in favor of entertainment and hype.
Likewise, another prime example of under-representation concerns the problem with the lack of diversity at the Oscars. In the last couple of years, people have been more vocal at their disappointment at the lack of people of color up for nominations at the awards show. In fact, in the last two years, there has not been a single person of color nominated for any acting category.
In an attempt to remedy the situation (and save their viewing numbers), the show invited Chris Rock to host the event. But it seems they have missed the point. No one put it more succinctly than Viola Davis in her acceptance speech for her first Emmy.
“You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there,” she argued.
The lack of diversity is not solely the Oscars’ problem. Inviting Chris Rock to host the show was no true solution either.
The lack of nominations points to a larger issue in the system as a whole. In the history of the Oscars, only 112 people of color have been nominated for acting categories, making up only 6.7% of the 1,668 total nominations. People of color are not even given the opportunity or privilege to represent themselves on screen; how can they possibly win those awards if they aren’t in the movies to being with?
They can’t and they don’t. So, in moments when those oppressed and discriminated against aren’t being heard, those who have the ability need to speak up for them. But that in and of itself is a double-edged sword as well.
People who are under the illusion that we live in a post-racial world are greatly mistaken. True, people aren’t freely going around calling each other derogatory terms, but the inequality and racism doesn’t stop there. These racial hierarchies and methods of oppression still exist today, albeit not as overtly. People of color are still being underrepresented and unheard, and one of the most visible examples of this inequality exists in the entertainment industry. It’s all in the little things we don’t always see.
Whether in the entertainment industry or in our everyday lives, racism is still present. While it may have taken a less noticeable form, its implications and repercussions are clear.
Ashley Duong is a first year literary journalism major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.