For the next series of posts, I will be discussing the use of hashtags that shine a light on problems within Hollywood. Do trending phrases about Hollywood’s issues, such as #OscarsSoWhite and #StarringJohnCho, actually cause any changes in the industry?
Currently, there is much inequality in the film and television industry regarding gender, race, sexuality, and so on. Audiences who notice this lack of inclusion speak out about it on social media platforms, like Twitter and Facebook, with the use of hashtags that eventually trend over the nation.
Activism through hashtags gained traction in this past year with the controversy surrounding diversity in the 2016 Oscars. Using trending phrases as an outcry forced those in Hollywood to start addressing these problems. #OscarsSoWhite was created by April Reign, managing editor of BroadwayBlack.com, as a response to the lack of actors of color nominated for best lead and supporting roles for the second year in a row. The last time all twenty nominees were white for these four categories was in 1998. The biggest difference between then and now is that today’s films feature more people of color, such as Creed, Straight Outta Compton, and Beasts of No Nation, which have been believed to be overlooked by the Academy. The problem is that only 2% of Academy Award voters were black out of 5765 members of the Academy, according to a study in 2012 conducted by the LA Times, which proves that the nominees won’t be diverse until the voters are.
#StarringJohnCho has also been used to talk about the lack of diversity in lead actors. William Yu, a digital strategist, created this hashtag as a reaction to Hollywood’s whitewashing. He photoshopped the face of actor John Cho (from the recent Star Trek films and Harold and Kumar) onto posters of well-known movies, such as Spectre, London Has Fallen, and The Martian. Yu made these posters because he was “tired of hearing from people that they can’t ‘see’ an Asian American actor playing the romantic lead or the hero, so [he] created #StarringJohnCho to literally show you”. These photos accompanied the hashtag as if to question why he shouldn’t be the lead in these films.
Hashtags as a response can be effective and induce change in Hollywood through the viewers who make their voices heard and let studios know that their mistakes are being seen by the public. These phrases can create awareness on issues of diversity and get seen by those who otherwise would have never acknowledged the problem, had it not been on their top 10 trending list. On the other hand, hashtags can be ineffective as social media campaigns might not be taken seriously and can be easily avoided and unseen, so it wouldn’t have any impact on film and TV.
Hashtags have been effective in starting up the conversation about diversity, seen with #OscarsSoWhite which has been supported by a numerous amount of A-List actors and directors. Lupita Nyong’o wrote on her Instagram that the Academy Awards should be “a diverse reflection of the best of what our art has to offer today”. George Clooney said that it feels like “the industry isn’t representing [African Americans] well enough”. Director Spike Lee, Will Smith, and Jada Pinkett Smith have boycotted the Oscars this year in order to make a statement, with Will Smith explaining how it’d be “uncomfortable to stand there and say that this is OK.” The hashtag ended up motivating actors to join the Academy to avoid this problem repeating itself for a third year in a row.
Using a hashtag as a call for change can be ineffective as it might not reach people who are offline or may be unseen since trending hashtags are constantly changing. Having these hashtags be on certain websites limits the number and type of people who see it. Young people who are active on social media, tech-savvy adults, or those who are interested the actors or movies involved will be the ones who notice these hashtags and post about it. All they can do to support the cause is by posting online, as the public can’t do much about it offline. Those who stay off the internet would have no idea these discussions are even happening since they can’t see it and therefore they wouldn’t get involved.
This topic shows that people all over the world really care about what the media is showing them and how they’re being proactive about it by letting their voices be heard through trending phrases in social media. Although it may not reach everyone in the world, it does reach a good amount and creates conversations that can possibly lead to change.