'SNL's' Sasheer Zamata Offers 7 Ways to Fix Hollywood's Diversity Problem
She also introduces the "DuVernay Test," a version of the Bechdel Test aimed at gauging diversity in movies.
As the Academy works to address #OscarsSoWhite, Sasheer Zamata offered seven ways to fix Hollywood's diversity problem in an essay penned for Lena Dunham's and Jenni Konner's Lenny newsletter.
The Saturday Night Live star wrote that the word "diversity" is being used inaccurately in some circles, pointing to some headlines about the SAG Awards that read "Diversity Makes a Comeback."
"What?? Where did it go? I think people are getting confused by the word diversity," she wrote. "Diversity didn’t win a SAG Award, a bunch of talented actors did. I don’t know when this started happening, but some people are using the word diversity to mean 'anyone but white people,' and that’s not what it actually means. If I want to put a diverse group (of anything) together, I would put together a spectrum of varying things. So if we’re talking racially (and we always are), that can include white people."
She went on to define diversity as "the act of inclusion, and it's something that needs to be improved upon in so many fields."
She added that Star Wars: The Force Awakens made her emotional due to the fact that a woman and a black man are the stars — and the movie didn't make a big deal about their gender or race. "They were just two full characters on a journey together," she wrote. "They both showed a wide range of emotions, and I got a true sense of their personalities and histories. I love that and want more of it."
Zamata also suggested that filmmakers use a version of the Bechdel Test when gauging diversity in movies. Calling it the "DuVernay Test," referencing Selma director Ava DuVernay, Zamata wrote that movies need to have "at least two people of color in it who talk to each other, about something besides race."
Noting that certain period pieces would be exempted ("Like I wouldn’t expect to see actors from Latin America in a movie about Queen Elizabeth…unless the queen had a secret Latin lover we didn’t know about"), she offered seven tips to Hollywood:
1. People of color should not be cast only as "service workers or criminal."
2. Avoid stereotypical casting descriptions that include "sassy, thuggish, urban, street, hood, spicy, fiery, flamboyant, fierce, etc."
3. There should be at least one person of color working behind the cameras to, in part, ensure that any characters played by people of color don't become caricatures.
4. Tokenism should be avoided, "where there is only one person from a certain race and it’s their responsibility to give their opinions on behalf of that whole race."
5. Fetishism also should be avoided, "where a character is sexualized because of their race."
6. When making a biopic, the person cast to play that real-life person should be of the same race. (Zamata's essay comes on the heels of white actor Joseph Fiennes being cast to play black singer Michael Jackson in a film; the news was met with much criticism online.) "If you are doing [a film] to respect or honor the subject matter’s story, then casting a white person will not do that," Zamata wrote.
7. Look for new stories to tell that feature people of color. "I don’t have a problem with revisiting history, but I think we can produce more narratives that aren’t about slavery or about someone fighting to be the first black ______," she wrote. "I definitely don’t want to overlook these stories, because they’re a part of our history and shouldn’t be forgotten, but I’d like to believe that POC in this country have created more stories since slavery and the civil-rights movement that can be expressed in present day or even in the future (like Star Trek!)."
She added that a person who claims to be an artist or creator who doesn't make diversity a priority is "not an artist."
"Our work should be a reflection of society and if you’re not concerned with including all of society, then I don’t really know what you’re doing making art in the first place," she added.