Sunday, January 24, 2016

Oscars' monochromatic nature reflects Hollywood's detachment from Greater Los Angeles

The #Oscarsowhite controversy hits close to home for me.

A college roommate and friend of mine, a talented young actor of Indian ancestry, was once told that he could only get ahead in hollywood by playing either a terrorist or a nerd. When I last caught up with him, I learned that he was focused on independent production of short films (rather than landing in mainstream auditions).

Indeed, it is widely known the ethnocentrism of Hollywood not only undervalues the talent of African-American actors but virtually erases Asian-American and Hispanic-American characters from the silver screen.

Being of Asian-american background, I find this frustrating enough on a personal level.

As a resident of Los Angeles, however, I find it far more irritating that Hollywood's whiteness is so out-of-sync with the demographics of its home region.

According to data from the 2010 census, only 26.8 percent of Los Angeles County residents identified as White Non-Hispanic. Indeed, the plurality of Angelenos identified (instead) as Hispanic or Latino, Significant minorities of the population identified as either Asian or black (14.8 percent or 9.2 percent respectively).

While Hollywood has no problem searching out new talent in England or Australia, it ignores the well-spring of potential talent in (predominantly-minority) municipalities like Sylmar and Norwalk that are right in its backyard.

Racism and ignorance aside, one may ask why it matters whether Hollywood's benefits accrue evenly throughout LA, especially when other regionally-focused industries (like Silicon Valley and Wall Street) similarly benefit a narrow segment of the population of their home regions?

A simple answer can be found in the 330-million dollar a year tax credit the state of California will soon award to film projects made in the state.

The primary rationale state lawmakers gave for approving this weighty expense of public revenue (which will amount to an increase over the previous 100-million-dollar a year tax credit) was the amount of jobs the film industry supposedly creates for the state of California. If the film shooting continues to leave Southern California, the thinking goes, the economy will suffer.

Of course, an industry does not benefit a region at a meaningful level if it only allocates jobs to members of a particular ethnic grouping.

Particularly in a region where race strongly coincides with geography (and economic well-being), Hollywood's government benefactors should take a closer look at how the industry actually benefits their own constituents.

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