What Lily-White Oscar Broadcast Says About Hollywood and Madison Avenue

Only Thing Representative of Real America Was P.S. 22 Choir

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Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
The morning of the Oscars, I received a Facebook message from a Latino friend. He was posting his Oscar predictions. Best Picture? A flim with a white guy. Best actress? A white woman. Best Director? Well, you get the drift. What none of us could have predicted was how this social commentary would be underscored by the Oscar's ending moment, a rousing rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," sung by the YouTube-renowned chorus of fifth graders from Staten Island's P.S. 22. You see, unlike the Oscar host and hostess, James Franco and Anne Hathaway, who were specifically hired to reflect a younger demographic, P.S. 22 actually looks like what America looks like today. Young and culturally diverse. The closing image of this multicultural children's chorus stood in stark contrast to the absence of multicultural movers-and-shakers among the nominees, the attendees or the Oscar presenters.

If you're going to fill a stage with children of all races and ethnic backgrounds and have them sing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," as the Oscar producers did, is it asking too much to acknowledge that "the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true" is an aspirational idea that is best supported by reflecting role models that look like these kids and by sharing stories that have something to do with the lives that these kids live.

Let's rewind the 2011 Oscars and pause on the multicultural moments, when a culturally diverse America was ever even slightly represented. We start with our P.S. 22 sign off, but we've already covered that. Rewind to the emotional farewell tributes. Stop. Let's talk about Lena. It was undeniably a profound and powerful moment as Halle Berry graced the stage and honored this trailblazer. Ms. Berry closed with a quote by Lena Horne, which was rich with honesty, heroism and heartbreak. It read, "It's not the load that breaks you down. It's the way you carry it." It's a thought that's as relevant to the multicultural artist and other individuals today as it was during Ms. Horne's career.

How do you script an Oscar show with a moment as powerful as Halle Berry's tribute to Lena and not notice that the entire show was symbolic of regression rather than progress? According to the NY Times, the 2011 Academy Award best-picture nominees were "more racially homogeneous -- more white -- than the 10 films that were up for best picture in 1940, when Hattie McDaniel became the first black American to win an Oscar for her role as Mammy in 'Gone With the Wind.' In view of recent history the whiteness of the 2011 Academy Awards is a little blinding."

Keep rewinding and you'll see a few more multicultural moments like Oprah, included for her gravitas, Morgan Freeman for his voice and Jennifer Hudson for her musical connection. Hispanic representation was basically limited to Spain's Javier Bardem for his foreign film cred. Asians? Can't recall seeing any. But who's counting.? Actually, I am. Because when you stop counting, they seem to stop caring. I would like to believe that a time will come when one won't have to count because diverse representation would naturally fall into place and balance itself out. But that day has been promising to come for a while now and it hasn't happened yet. Certainly there are more roles for multicultural performers in both advertising and film today than there have ever been, but there's a difference between quantity and quality.

One could argue that there weren't any films worthy of an Oscar nod that included cast members of color or directors, screenwriters, cinematographers or any number of on or off screen talent. For arguments sake, let's just go with that theory. It still doesn't excuse the absence of presenters. Being a presenter at the Academy Awards can build careers. The networking, the exposure, the nod from your peers. Where was Eva Mendes, Andy Garcia, Benicio del Toro, or Zoe Saldana, just to name a few? Any other Asian, African American or Latino talent that might have balanced out the preponderance of mainstream non-Hispanic white Americans, Brits and Aussies?

And why should advertisers and advertising agencies care? It's just the Oscars. That's Hollywood's problem. Well, it's our problem too. Many of our award shows are equally void of diversity and our creative product is still dominantly created by and filtered through the lens of less-than-diverse teams. The stories we tell and the way we tell them are still skewed toward an aging population's perspective, predominantly male, predominantly white. Which is not to say that the stories being told by white America aren't brilliant and the talent pool that reflects white America isn't worthy of recognition.

It's a question of balance. It's a question of inclusion and evolution and respect. At the end of the day, it's also a question of acknowledging that P.S. 22 kids look more like your consumers than we ever seem to want to embrace. How can we look at school yard after school yard of kids and see a sea of diverse skin colors and eye colors and hair colors and not stop and say: "The events I develop, and the communication images and messages I create, and the award shows I produce, and the stories I tell, should all reflect the world that these kids and their parents live in; a world that we all live in; a world that comes in so many more shades than the cast of the 2011 Academy Awards."

Why, when it comes to something as important as the images projected by our most powerful media and message-carriers, Hollywood films and U.S. advertising, is a diverse world still only "a land that I've heard of once in a lullaby"?

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