Unlike the Golden Globe Awards, it won’t be all black dresses on the red carpet at this Sunday’s Academy Awards.
But that doesn’t mean #MeToo and the related Time’s Up movements have had their moment. Rather, a significant shift in who makes movies and what movies get made may be the result of the highly public pushback against sexual harassment and gender inequality.
The changes will impact industry and individual alike.
“The #MeToo movement will not only continue to recalibrate the industry and the content of the movies, but also viewers,” Carol Donelan, a professor of cinema and media studies at Carleton College in Northfield, wrote in an e-mail exchange.
There are already glimpses among nominees for Best Picture. Actress Greta Gerwig is nominated for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for the Oscar-nominated “Lady Bird.” And the odds-on favorite to win is “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” whose plot about a woman demanding justice evokes the justifiable quest for accountability in Hollywood and beyond.
But imbalances persist, according to a report released this week titled “Hollywood Diversity: Five Years of Progress and Missed Opportunities.”
The annual analysis from UCLA stated that “women remained underrepresented on every front in 2015-16” (the most recent data available).
Actresses accounted for only 31.2 percent of film leads, perhaps because only 13.8 percent of film writers and 6.9 percent of film directors are women.
As for people of color, “despite quite a bit of progress for the group since the previous report, they remained underrepresented on every front in 2015-16.”
But this, too, may be changing.
For one thing, some of the same Hollywood heavies on the red carpet responded to the #OscarSoWhite movement that took root two years ago.
And because green is still a great motivator to many, the “Black Panther” phenomenon sends an unmistakable marketplace message even to hidebound Hollywood executives.
The latest in the Marvel franchise has performed, well, marvelously with critics and audiences alike. Debuting to nearly universally good reviews, it’s a worldwide hit with two-week global box-office revenue soaring past $700 million, and the inevitable sequels may put “Black Panther” in the pantheon of Hollywood’s top-grossing franchises.
Co-written and directed by an African-American director, Ryan Coogler, and featuring a constellation of African-American stars, the movie’s success underscores the report’s statement that “increasingly diverse audiences prefer diverse film and television content.” Specifically, films with 21 to 30 percent people-of-color casting “enjoyed the highest median global box-office receipts and the highest median return on investment, while films with the most racially and ethnically homogenous casts were the poorest performers.”
Like many of the nine fine films nominated for Best Picture Oscars this year, which delivered an average box office of about one tenth of “Black Panther’s” two-week take.
It’s notable that “global” was the metric mentioned in the report, since movies like “Black Panther” are created for and consumed by a worldwide audience.
“The movies that Hollywood is making are these tent-pole movies,” said Mary Murphy, an associate professor at the USC Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism. But, Murphy said, “they are not the movies that are nominated for the Academy Awards.”
While that may change, given the acclaim of “Black Panther,” it’s accurate, with a few notable exceptions, such as the tent-pole polemic “Avatar,” which hit on environmental and action themes in 2009, or a literary franchise such as the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy that booked three consecutive nominations from 2001-2003.
“The academy tends to reward films that offer something more than escapism and ticket sales,” said Donelan. “Notice that all of the nominees for Best Picture are diving into deep waters, thematically, taking on racism, war, violence, sexuality, government corruption, parent-child relationships and so on. The films push us to examine who we are and who we wish to be, as individuals, as a people, as a nation. If there’s a disconnect between critical acclaim and box-office success, I think it may be that not all of us want to engage in self-reflection and serious thought. I get it; it can be tough going after a long workweek. But it can be so worth it, if you’ve got the time.”
People making time — and money — for movies is another challenge facing the film industry: Movie attendance was down 6 percent last year as in-cinema viewing fell to a 22-year low. Related, ticket prices hit a record high.
“There seems to be a trend in culture towards ‘upscaling’ collective experience, as evidenced in skyrocketing ticket prices for concerts, museum exhibitions and sports events,” Donelan said. “Beyond religious establishments, movie theaters still offer the cheapest seats for collective ritual experience.”
Like a good whodunit, there are many suspects and maybe multiple culprits culling this collective ritual experience, including a deeply divided society and technological transformations training the next generation to watch alone.
Should that continue, “the shared experience of creativity will be lost to the single appreciation of a movie on a small iPhone, and that’s where the world is moving,” Murphy said. “And to me, that’s sad.”
Indeed, empty cinemas might be as much of a tear-jerker as some of the films themselves.
But Hollywood likes nothing more than a good comeback story, and already has a compelling chapter in “Black Panther,” a bright spot amid red-carpet shadows this awards season.
John Rash is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist. The Rash Report can be heard at 8:10 a.m. Fridays on WCCO Radio, 830-AM. On Twitter: @rashreport.