Diversity in Filmmaking
Filmmaking has never been more diverse in terms of race and gender than it is today. Still, it’s just not good enough for some people. As filmmakers become more and more inclusive, more and more rules are thrown into the mix. Vanity Fair even suggests we need to see more leading characters with disabilities. But why? They complain that only 12.2% of characters in American films are black, and that’s just not enough. Is it not enough? Blacks make up 13.2% of the American population. They are only underrepresented by a single percentage point. Still, they want more, and not just in front of the camera either. Did you know that less than 8% of directors are female, and more than 92% are male.
But is this really a problem with filmmaking? Do we really need to do better?
Back in 2014, my film, Black Mountain Side, was criticized for its all-male cast. The critic wrote:
“There are plenty of lady archaeologists and medical doctors, and the fact that this still needs to be stated in 2014 is my frustration […] I do see it as shortsightedness on behalf of the filmmakers.”
In pre-production, diversity was the topic of conversation multiple times. Many of the people involved in the making of the film urged me to change one or two of the characters into females. I said, “We can, but it means rewriting the script,” which had some people scratching their heads. “Why can’t you just make them females instead of males? Why do you need to rewrite anything except for their character name and description?” This had me scratching my head.
Men and women are different, it’s just a fact. There is a strong contingent of people who would like you to think otherwise, but facts are facts.
In 2016, the struggle for diversity and equality reached its crux. The Oscars were all about addressing the diversity issue, and shortly after, all anyone could talk about was the “wage gap“. Amy Adams decided to speak out about how she was paid much less than her male co-stars in the film, American Hustle. This, of course, outraged many people, mostly feminists who saw it as blatant proof that the wage gap was real. But they were all (and still are) ignoring the facts. The reality of Amy Adams’s situation is that Amy Adams was paid less than her male co-stars because she was billed lower than her male co-stars, she worked far fewer days on set, she had far less screen time, and, most importantly, Amy Adams is not as big of a household name as Bradley Cooper or Christian Bale.
Jennifer Lawrence on the other hand — she is on par with those big hitters. It was leaked that she too was paid much less than her male co-stars, and this further infuriated feminists and the like. If you’ve seen the movie, you know she’s only in a handful of scenes, and was probably on set for less than 10% of the shoot. Jennifer Lawrence was reportedly paid 20% less than Bradley Cooper, but she most definitely worked far less than 20% of the shoot days. It’s the same as working four days a week at your job and complaining that you didn’t make as much as the guy who worked five. If you calculate the days worked of each actor, both Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence were actually paid more per day than their male co-stars.
An unrealistic fantasy
The problem is, what these people want is utopian fantasy. They don’t care about the facts. Going back to the critic who slammed Black Mountain Side for having no women in the cast, calling it “shortsightedness on behalf of the filmmakers” — What she doesn’t know is that we actually auditioned women for one of the roles in the film. We considered casting asians, blacks, first-nations, Indo-Canadians, and whites for many of the roles. In the end, we chose the strongest actors.
Filmmaking is in trouble
In making Hammer of the Gods, there was once again more pressure to add gender and racial diversity to the cast. The pressure was even greater than before. Another project we had in development, a comedy, was also criticized for its lack of female protagonists. It’s a shame that film has become a political battleground.
My fiancee and I were recently watching the new Netflix series, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and couldn’t help but notice that not only were characters from the source material changed to accommodate greater diversity, but their backstories were completely changed in order to make it happen. This means that the production team actually went out of their way to make the show more diverse. That’s bad filmmaking. Diversity shouldn’t be forced into art. You wouldn’t tell Michelangelo to paint more blacks and asians into his paintings so that people would feel more included at the museum. Diversity should happen naturally. People should be rewarded based on talent, not the colour of their skin. Filmmaking shouldn’t cross over into politics.
The diversity myth
Some people reading this might think that I’m suggesting that white men are better actors than their non-white, non-male counterparts, but that’s not at all what I’m suggesting. For Black Mountain Side, when we put out the casting call to men and women for the role of the Professor, we had an astounding two women show up to audition. We probably had about fifty men, if not more. For Hammer of the Gods, we had two blacks and one asian show up for the characters Eric and Mitch, and many, many more whites. For the single female character we cast, we had hundreds of white girls submit, and very, very few non-whites. The role ended up going to one of those non-white actors simply because she was the strongest actor of the lot.
Forcing diversity into fillmaking is the real crime. To give someone a role because of the colour of their skin is the real injustice. And despite what Google says, it is possible for whites to be the victims of racism. If you have thirty white people audition for a role, and one Vietnamese person, and you pick the Vietnamese guy in the name of “diversity”, not only is that borderline racism as far as I’m concerned, but you’ve effectively made your film worse by ignoring potential talent. Hard Boiled has almost exclusively Chinese actors, and when I watch it, I don’t feel oppressed because there are no white guys in the flick.
People are different
Men are different than women. They have different hobbies and interests. The big news of 2016 was that women, on average, make 78 cents for every dollar men make, but this isn’t because of oppression or inequality. It’s because women tend to prefer jobs with lower pay. Women tend not to take jobs in construction or waste management. Out of high school, ladies tend to take jobs at clothing stores and pet stores and other jobs with low-stress environments. Men tend to go into trades and higher risk occupations. Despite what feminism wants you to think, many women still prioritize time with their children and families, while men are more likely to work longer hours and over the weekends.
Filmmakers who deny these real differences are compromising the quality of their films. They’re substituting realism for equality. I still stand by my claim that 99% of women wouldn’t take a job at the fictional outpost in Black Mountain Side because of its horribly harsh conditions and labour intensive environment. In defending this claim, I compared it to an oil rig, where female workers make up only 4% of the workforce.
In Black Mountain Side, a female character would have not only been unrealistic, it would have changed the whole dynamic of the cast. It’s a scientific fact that men act differently around women. Had we cast one of the women who auditioned for the professor role, I would have rewritten her scenes. The line, “I just want to settle down with a bottle of whisky and a box of porn,” probably wouldn’t have made the cut, and the characters wouldn’t have proceeded to cheers “to whisky and porn”. Black Mountain Side is a movie about men, and I find that interesting. I didn’t set out to make the most politically correct and diverse film I could make, I set out to make the best possible film I could make.
The filmmaking goal should be to make the best possible film without compromise. You wouldn’t make a film about the Holocaust with a perfectly diverse cast, nor would you make a film about the Rwandan genocide with a perfectly diverse cast — because it would be offensively unrealistic. The real world isn’t some perfectly diverse utopia, so your fictional world shouldn’t be either. Chinatowns exist in every city because Chinese people prefer to surround themselves with Chinese culture. People prefer same-race neighbourhoods. Art should reflect the world it is created in. When I read a Dostoyevski novel, I want to get a sense of what life was like in Russia, pre-Russian Revolution. Let’s leave utopian fantasies for fantasy and science fiction and embrace the world we live in now for the sake of future generations who will look to our work to get an understanding of where they came from.