Tim Burton's Recent Interview Leads to Talk of Diversity

By Mehnaz Ladha
On October 10, 2016

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore, Wikipedia

The subject of diversity in the entertainment industry has dominated conversations, especially following last year’s Oscar controversy that prompted celebrities to boycott the event in protest of the low number of people of color nominated for awards.

This hot topic resurfaced at the 69th annual Emmy Awards, where host Jimmy Kimmel repeatedly emphasized how the nomination ballot this year was the most diverse ever.

“The Emmys are so diverse this year that the Oscars are telling people we are their closest friends,” joked Kimmel during his opening monologue.

Remarks of famed director Tim Burton, related to equal representation in the film industry, stirred controversy earlier this month in an interview with Bustle promoting "Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children." An adaptation of the 2011 novel penned by Ransom Riggs, Burton’s latest film includes a nearly all white cast with the exception of the villain character essayed by Samuel L. Jackson. During his interview, Burton expressed his opinions relating to the diversity problem in Hollywood.

“Nowadays, people are talking about it more,” said Burton. “Things either call for it, or they don’t.”

While the filmmaker’s statements convey a sense of indifference toward diversity and are the source of public uproar, they foster a dialogue about the responsibility of a filmmaker in maintaining diversity in Hollywood.

The primary responsibility of all filmmakers and directors, alike, is to bring a story that had only existed previously in the imaginative minds of writers to life with the help of skilled crewmembers and experienced actors. Although the storyline of a film is untouchable, filmmakers play a pivotal role in casting the actors and actresses that breathe life into fictional, or sometimes non-fictional characters. However, filmmakers should be wary about how they choose actors or actresses and not feel pressured by societal standards to choose someone of color.

The character’s personality within a film should not define what type of person should essay that particular figure. Rather an actor or actress’ ability to execute that role should determine whether or not they are qualified for the film. To clarify, a Latino should not be hired to play the role of a drug dealer because he is Latino. Instead, he should be hired because of his abilities rather than his racial background. But for this to happen and become the norm of hiring actors and actresses, filmmakers will have to look past the stereotypes and view people based on their talents instead of the color of their skin.

Forcing diversity most often goes terribly wrong because it becomes clear that the actor or actress was cast only to bring a sense of multiculturalism to the film and attempts to mask the real diversity issue in the entertainment industry. These actors and actress of color are essentially being taken advantage of to win the hearts of audiences and critics. Burton’s echo of this sentiment was overshadowed by his earlier comments.

“I remember back when I was a child watching 'The Brady Bunch' and they started to get all politically correct. Like, okay, let’s have an Asian child and a black. I used to get more offended by that than just…I grew up watching Blaxploitation movies, right? And I said, that’s great. I didn’t go, okay, there should be more white people in these movies,” said Burton.

Films produced during Burton’s childhood were created at a time when actors of color were hired because they could live up to the prevalent stereotypes of the time. While society has progressed significantly since then, these preconceived notions about certain races still exist and are perpetuated by modern day films that revolve around characters that live up these expectations. To create a film with the intention of being diverse, therefore, seems to be unethical because it’s not for the sake of providing opportunities to these actors of color but to appeal to society and make a profit off of the film. This sort of personal gain, therefore, invalidates our attempt at diversity. The most realistic way of promoting diversity, then, is to create roles for actors and actresses that, if anything, defy the stereotypes and microaggressions that continue to follow people of all races.

Despite the dissension surrounding an all white cast, a film does not lose its value for not having people of color. But when it comes to fostering a supportive and inclusive culture, having actors of color is essential. Films, as well as other different types of mediums, directly impact how the rest of society acts and by showcasing the talents of actors of color, filmmakers would steer away from just promoting the built-up concept of diversity. Instead, filmmakers would be leading the movement against stereotypes, which is significantly more important than meeting societal standards and winning audience approval.

At the end of the day, Burton’s opinion is just an opinion after all. As a leading figure in the entertainment industry, his words do carry some weight and encourages society to address an issue that is often swept aside as long as it doesn’t cause controversy.

mladha@ramapo.edu

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