The moment president-elect Joe Biden announced that Kamala Harris would be joining his ticket as VP of the United States of America, Hollywood reacted enthusiastically with tweets flying left, right, and center. My favorite came from @kerrywashington on August 11 with Yes We Kam!
And yes they did! When president-elect Joe Biden and his VP Kamala Harris won the 2020 presidential election something returned that had been absent in the United States of America for the last four years, and that was hope.
It’s a small word, only four letters but its power can’t be ignored. Without hope, a nation’s spirit can be brought to their collective knees but with it, no matter how low, can rise again.
The Biden-Harris combination beat the snot out of Donald Trump and there was celebrating in the streets in cities across America with happy tears flowing down the faces of all kinds of people. The images of people expressing their joy brought chills down the spines of millions. Were the Hollywood gatekeepers watching and taking notes? Where the grossly incompetent, racist, sexist Donald Trump, and his equally dastardly administration created an environment of fear supported by lies and ignorance the incoming administration brings experience, competence, empathy, a sincere spirit for justice, and the ability to smash glass ceilings into smithereens. And it brings — diversity.
To begin, Kamala Harris made history several times over making the former California senator the first African American vice president, the first Indian American vice president, and the first woman to serve in that position. A set of powerful firsts.
Now to Hollywood, always a tricky place to be sure but one that loves an underdog story. In the creative community, there is an overwhelming feeling that the change of power in Washington, DC will trickle down to the entertainment industry in all sectors. But the question of positive and lasting change comes from the top where powerful people (mostly White men) make and enforce the rules.
Sure if you do a Google search using the keywords; Hollywood, diversity, and inclusion there will be a bevy of hits extolling new initiatives. And much like the entertainment properties that they create year-after-year, there is a craft to making people believe exactly what you want them to believe. Many hands are shaping the perfect sound bite which is supported by all the glitz and glitter that million-dollar marketing budgets can provide. That’s the show part of show-business then there is the truth about the entertainment industry, the cold, gut-churning reality that it is a business and the machinery, on so many levels, is still run by many monstrous people—mostly White males.
But the winds of change are blowing fast and hard and people demand it and I offer as evidence the impact that Maya Rudolph had when she impersonated VP elect Kamala Harris on NBC’s SNL. Twitter went crazy and her performance even garnered a response from the VP herself — ‘That girl being played by @MayaRudolph on @nbcsnl? That girl was me.”
I return to the four letters that form that powerful word — hope. Hollywood has it in abundance. In a recent article that appeared in The Hollywood Reporter entitled “Hollywood Women Praise ‘Newfound Representation’ With Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris” written by Sharareh Drury, Ashley Cullins that hope is evident in the quotes provided by Lilly Singh, Oscar-winner Viola Davis, Nina Shaw (the only Black female name partner at a top Hollywood talent firm) and Gabrielle Union.
I am an optimist and a student of history. To that end, I remember the 2020 Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism’s annual report on Hollywood representation of those from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, girls and women, the LGBTQ community, and individuals with disabilities.
How do you think the entertainment industry fares year-after-year? Professor Stacy L. Smith’s quote on the subject of Hollywood and their long-term plans to be inclusive speaks volumes: “After 13 years, it is not clear what might convince entertainment companies to change,” said Dr. Smith. “Despite public statements, the data reveal that there is still apathy and ambivalence to increasing representation of speaking characters overall in popular films. This is both the easiest representational gap to address and one that is essential to strengthen the pipeline to more prominent roles.”
To their credit, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its continued effort to bolster diversity and inclusion at the Oscars by setting new standards of representation and inclusion to win the coveted Best Picture trophy — standards that have been met with praise and skepticism.
Here’s the real question, will Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris’s presence in the White House challenge the lack of diversity in Hollywood?
People do change when faced with powerful examples. For many, the election of a well educated, experienced biracial woman with a multicultural family – whose husband is choosing to leave his job to support his wife’s career – is that perfect example.
The inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris is set for January 20, 2021, where the first woman of color (African-American and South Asian) will be stepping into the annals of history.
Will powerful people in Hollywood care? Will Trumpian narcissists still run amok in the halls of power where the decisions are made? Or will the voice of the people make their desire for true diversity, lasting and positive change, and authentic representation so palpable that these gatekeepers have no choice but to smash the old system and build one that works for all of us?
Time will tell. If these seismic changes happen within the next four years, I will remember my sister, Kerry Washington’s tweet and resurrect her victory chant with—Yes We Kam.