They didn’t have Twitter back in 1996. But the lack of diversity at an Oscars ceremony hosted by Whoopi Goldberg and produced by Quincy Jones was still very much part of the public discourse.
The March 18, 1996 cover story by Pam Lambert resonates for another reason when re-read this Oscar season. It includes quotes from Reginald Hudlin, who is is co-producing the 2016 Academy Awards with David Hill:
Hollywood’s power circle “has levels of segregation that would not be accepted in IBM or American Express,” says black filmmaker Reginald Hudlin (Boomerang). “An individual actor or director can come and go, but those people are there for decades. That’s where we need to make great changes…”
“The budget ceiling for African-American productions is dramatically lower than for so-called mainstream projects,” says Warrington Hudlin, who has produced four of his brother Reginald’s movies. Hudlin cites their experience after their first studio film, House Party, grossed over 10 times its $2.5 million budget. “One would think that the interpretation would be, ‘Here are guys who have their ears to the ground, so let them come back with a more challenging budget to make even more money,’ ” he says. “But instead the response was, ‘No, you’ll do another movie in the same budget range.’ ”
Part of the studios’ justification, Hudlin says, is their contention that “blacks don’t sell overseas.” Yet he points out that Eddie Murphy’s 1988 movie Coming to America, made for $39 million with a virtually all-black cast, did a whopping $350 million internationally. And last year’s Bad Boys, starring the lesser-known Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, scored $75 million overseas. (Its U.S. take was $64 million.) “There’s conventional wisdom that catches on,” Hudlin says. “Statistics come out that. refute it, but people hold on to it.”
Warrington goes on to suggest that the lack of a Best Supporting Actor nomination that year for Don Cheadle (Mouse in Devil in a Blue Dress) was “deeply, deeply disturbing.” And he provides writer Lambert with an article ending that might as well have been articulated yesterday:
“If Hollywood wasn’t racist, it wouldn’t be American. I’m neither complaining nor whining,” Hudlin says. “I like to always operate from an illusion-free place.”
When it comes to Hollywood, elitist is probably a more accurate term than “racist.” But the end result is the same.