Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Emmy winner Ryan Murphy challenges society...and I gladly accept! By Brian J. Patterson

Ryan Murphy with husband David Miller on Emmy red carpet.

The Normal Heart, directed by Ryan Murphy and starring Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Taylor Kitsch, Jim Parsons, Alfred Molina, Julia Roberts, Joe Manello, Jonathan Groff, Denis O'Hare, Stephen Spinella, Corey Stoll, Finn Wittrock, and BD Wong, was nominated for 16 (yes, you heard that right, sixteen) awards for the 66th Annual Prime Time Emmys. I was ecstatic to watch, as it won it's only award for Outstanding Television Movie. This film, which depicts the story of the HIV/AIDS crisis of the early 1980s in New York City, meant so much to so many people due to it's raw and truthful subject matter which is both touching and moving. I won't even exhibit such hubris by attempting to put into words what this film accomplished and why. However, what I will do is honor it's powerful work by answering the call to action which director Ryan Murphy set forth.

Ryan Murphy accepting award at 66th Primetime Emmys. Screen capture courtesy of NBC.

During director Murphy's acceptance speech, he put forth a challenge to young people by encouraging them to research causes like AMFAR, and The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. However, it was one particular phrase in his speech which had me soaking in stillness and galvanized me to action all at once. He urged, "...young people watching to become Larry Kramers. To find a cause you believe in. That you will fight for. That you will die for..." It was then, that I knew it was time to take action on what has been laying heavy on my heart for years...the lack of cultural diversity in Hollywood.  

Cast members of The Normal Heart with Director Ryan Murphy. 

All being interviewed on The Huffington Post. Pic courtesy of Huff Post.

I realize we have made leaps and bounds in this area. Yet, we still have a ways to go and there is still work to be done. I also realize that this may not seem like the most important of causes to others. For me, it definitely is something that I will fight for, and I wold die for. Not only have I experienced the effects of a society who hasn't fully embraced diversity, but I see it manifested in our world every day. So, at this point, the more prominent question you might be thinking is 'Why Hollywood'? 

Poster for Diary Of A Mad Black Woman. 

A play known for it's influential message of forgiveness and healing. 

Photo courtesy of TylerPerry.com.

Hollywood (and the entertainment industry in general) has proven time and time again to be the medium through which the masses are often informed and inspired to thought and action. Some examples of Hollywood's influence are: 
  • Bewitched (1964) - The 1950s were riddled with clear and obvious messages of what a family 'should' be. Divorce became a very hot topic in the 50s and 60s. Bewitched was the first television program to not only depict divorce, but it also was the first to depict any kind of 'mixed marriage.' While many debunk it for it's fantasy like nature, there is argument made that it laid necessary non-threatening subconscious groundwork for the debate on religious freedom. 
  • Wonder Woman (1975) - Television show of a character created in 1941 by industrial Psychologist Dr. William Moulton Marston III who believed that "Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force strength & power." He also said that, Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their (perceived) weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.” Wonder Woman was brought to life in the 70s via Lynda Carter and not only became the premiere image of the Women's lib movement, but became an icon through which people would see the amazingness of all women. 
  • Gandhi (1982) - His belief in the fundamental truth of all the great religions of the world was shared via film by director Richard Attenborough. The film starring Ben Kingsley won 8 Oscars and received an additional 33 wins and 20 nominations for other awards and categories. Kingsley's Gandhi personified the leader of the Indian revolution against British rule. Gandhi's philosophy of non-violent protest was beautifully depicted and exemplified how to affect change and fight discrimination.  
  • White Man's Burden (1995) - Only 4 years prior in 1991, the eruption of Rodney King's beating by LAPD officers sent shockwaves of racial tension through America. This film gives keen insight to how the foundational systems in America are by nature in favor of Caucasian America, by showing an America where the African American community makes up the social elite 1% of America (all the positions of power), versus the Caucasian community who in habit more of the rest. WMB was key in bringing awareness to the subconscious racism that continues to endure in America. 
  • TransAmerica (2005) - As the trans-gendered community continues to experience deep oppression in the US, this 2005 film continues the work which Boys Don't Cry (1999) began. Her depiction of Bree under director Duncan Tucker gave further insight to some of the discrimination, emotional trauma, and legal injustices which are experienced by the trans-gendered community. 
  • Scandal (2012) - Having a minority as a lead in a television show has been few and far between in this country. However, Scandal is the first television show to depict a black woman as this lead in a primetime drama since Diahann Carroll's Julia of 1968 and Teresa Graves' Get Christy Love of 1974. Scandal continues Shonda Rhimes' tradition of depicting a more fully integrated cast of lead characters, while exemplifying the universality of the human condition regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, or background. 

Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha in Bewitched, 

Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, 

and Ben Kingsley as Gandhi. 

As you can see, Hollywood alone has done much to influence society's view on minorities and those who are different. So many power players and institutions in Hollywood have taken note of the problem. Yet Rhimes is one of the few in Hollywood today to lead this cause and effect change by example and action. I truly feel there is a profound RESPONSIBILITY on the part of entertainment and Hollywood specifically to affect change, and here are a few ways I think we can start: 1) Making ourselves aware, 2) Understanding the effect, and 3) taking positive action to effect change. 

AWARENESS. This probably the most key component in affecting change. The first and foremost thing I'd like everyone to know, is that...THIS IS NOT AN EVEN PLAYING FIELD! However, we are definitely beginning to see some awesome progress. Here are some stats to get you started on your journey to awareness. 

Approximately 70% of roles that are written (yeah, WRITTEN) in Hollywood are for Caucasians. That means that from inception, there is an astoundingly prominent foundational inequality. While this stat is an estimated stat from 2012, I don't see much changing. Especially after reading the 2014 Hollywood Diversity Report done by UCLA. The report, which came out this February made some startling discoveries. Here's just a portion of what was said about films: 
  • Lead actors in big budget Theatrical Films were 90% white and 10% minority (keep in mind, that leaves only 10% for EVERYONE ELSE). 
  • Lead actors in Theatrical Films were 75% male and 25% female. 
  • Over half of Theatrical Films had a minority cast share of 10% or less. 
  • Directors of Theatrical Films were 88% white and 12% minority
  • Directors of Theatrical Films were 96% male and 4% female. 
Here is what UCLA said about television: 
  • Minorities are underrepresented by a factor of 7 to 1 among lead roles in broadcast comedies and dramas. 
  • Show creators of broadcast comedies and dramas were 96% white and 4% minority. 
Here is what UCLA said about writers: 
  • Minorities are under represented of nearly 5 to 1 among film writers.
  • Women are more likely than minorities to be film writers. 
UCLA's findings were also supported by the Writers Guild of America. In the WGA 2014 report they state: 
  • Since 2009, the minority share of television employment increased a percentage point to 11% (and that's the HIGHEST share to record!). 
  • The minority share of film employment remained at 5%. 
  • Minority film writers earned 63 cents for every dollar earned by white male film writers.  
This is just a taste of some of the alarming numbers shared by both institutions. In addition, a 2005 US Government Census Beuarau Economic Survey of racial income distribution states that: 87.93% of all households in the top 5% (those that report making $200K or more per year) were headed by a person who identified as being white only. With statistics like the previous, it's not surprising that most Caucasians don't really feel or understand the intense struggle up against which many minorities seem to always be. It is further indication that regardless of Ann Coulter's July 21, 2010 comment on Hannity when she claimed that, "...we don't have racism in America..." We actually are exhibiting some very clear signs of racial inequalities. If not by racism, then what? I'll leave that for you to explain, Ann. 

THE EFFECT - As I have previously shown Hollywood and the entertainment industry have an alarming effect on society and the general consciousness. And again, as a member of that community (I know I'm only a small contributor at the moment), I do feel a responsibility to utilize said powers for good, and as much as possible. I can cite example after example to depict what I'm talking about. But, for brevity's sake, I'm just going to get down to the nitty-gritty...
The Clark Experiment is a good representation of the effects a biased society can have on minorities, subcultures, and society in general. The experiment utilized dolls to test and study children's attitudes regarding race. The results are almost always alarming. As it shows that children often associate things like bad, ugly, mean, violent, etc. with being non-white. In addition, the experiment reveals elements of victimization and internalized racism and self loathing. These effects are something which are not always immediately evident in a society, and of which most are unconscious.

ACTION - "Dreams are lovely. But they are just dreams. Fleeting, ephemeral, pretty. But dreams do not come true just because you dream them. It's hard work that makes things happen. It's hard work that creates change." -Shonda Rhimes June 8, 2014 Dartmouth Commencement Speech. 
As seen previously in this report, the WGA reported that since 2009 the minority share of television employment increased only ONE percentage point to 11%, and that's the HIGHEST share to record! While it is great that the WGA has begun compiling this information for us. Now, what is anyone doing to create inclusion other than Shonda Rhimes? 

SCANDAL cast photo courtesy of ABC.

It's time for us to take action and begin healing through art. I realize that people tell stories they know, but the human condition is something we ALL know. If we begin to talk about acceptance for all, we will make ourselves AWARE, and we will begin to see the EFFECTS. We can then take ACTION, and make more fully integrated stories, and bringing these diverse stories to the masses. This can have nothing short of setting a tone of inclusion and unity, but more important a ripple effect of understanding and open dialog. With so much discrimination (Fruitvale / Treyvon Martin), racial tensions (riots in St. Louis), extremist religious zealotry (Westboro Baptist Church / James Foley beheading), and hate in the world, don't you think it's time to contribute to something that will create a foundation of healing? 

Grey's Anatomy cast courtesy of ABC.

I personally will begin my contribution with my work here at Ace Of Geeks. I plan on doing a long series of interviews that will happen at least once a month. I will focus on those in Hollywood who are in the minority. Of course it's Ace of Geeks. So, I will be focusing on those that influence geek culture. I am hoping that sharing their stories will bring light to the wealth of talent capable of portraying powerful roles in Hollywood. I especially hope that you'll join me on this journey, and maybe even contribute along the way. 

Thank you Larry Kramer for your work, and thank you Ryan Murphy for the inspiration. Here we go!... 

Brian J. Patterson is an actor and producer who splits his time between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

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