Nina Jacobson Says Casting People of Color Is a "No-Brainer" During Hollywood Reporter Women in Entertainment Speech
'Crazy Rich Asians' star Awkwafina introduced the film's producer, this year's recipient of the Equity in Entertainment Award, calling her a "hero."
Producer Nina Jacobson called casting people of color a "no-brainer" during her speech at The Hollywood Reporter's 2018 Women in Entertainment event Wednesday.
The Crazy Rich Asians producer was honored with the third annual Equity in Entertainment award at the star-studded gala at Milk Studios.
"I feel a little sheepish receiving an award just for exercising common sense," said Jacobson. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that audiences want more than a steady diet of stories by and about cisgender white men."
She explained that casting choices for Crazy Rich Asians, which became the highest-grossing romantic comedy at the box office in 10 years and the only film to feature a cast entirely of Asian descent in 25 years, seemed obvious to her and her colleagues at Color Force, the company she runs with producing partner Brad Simpson. "Because those characters were Asian, we cast Asian people to play them. Seriously, who else were we going to cast? Talk about a no-brainer," she continued. "It means so much to me to read and hear from Asian-Americans about what it feels like to see faces like their own in a movie like this. But we didn't do it because we were trying to right an industry wrong. We did it because we loved it."
One of the stars of the film, Awkwafina, introduced Jacobson as a "hero" and "an actual boss bitch" when presenting her with the award, saying, "Nina Jacobson is the hero that we need right now."
Awkwafina recounted how the pair met over a Skype audition three years ago. "When I do Skype calls, I don't wear pants. I just wear a shirt and I do my makeup. I realized I was so nervous during the call, because I knew this movie would change history and change my life," she said. "I remember meeting Nina and thinking like 'OK, so this is what an actual boss bitch looks like.'"
"Nina has built an incredibly successful career in an alarmingly male-dominated profession, fighting relentlessly to give traditionally silenced groups a voice. She speaks her mind, even when it might bruise a couple of sensitive male egos or two, and isn't scared to stand up for what she believes in," Awkwafina continued in her speech, ending with, "Thank you for believing in me and if you've got another project coming up, I'm available, just saying."
Jacobson also spoke about her work on Ryan Murphy's Pose, which made history with the largest number of transgender actors in series regular roles for a scripted series. "We cast trans people of color to play trans people of color because the story is about trans people of color. Who else were we going to cast?" Jacobson said. "Making diverse and inclusive stories has put me in business with some of the most talented writers, directors and stars I’ve ever known and yet here I am getting an award just for having the good sense to work with them." She called for studios and networks to provide inclusivity stipends to fund paid apprenticeships in every department on set.
"White men may rule the world — for the moment, which by the way isn't working out very well — but they don't rule the box office," Jacobson said. "Representation is power and it's past time for that power to be redistributed. Stories change the world."
Murphy and Amy Pascal were the two previous recipients of THR's Equity in Entertainment Award. The Power 100 Women in Entertainment event presented by Lifetime is sponsored by American Airlines, Cadillac, Fiji Water, eOne, Gersh, Loyola Marymount University and SAG-AFTRA, in partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles and Entertainment Industry Foundation.