I often ponder my motivations and reasons for pursuing a career in film. Today one of those motivations was made very clear: to increase the representation of marginalized people (women, people of color, the disabled) working behind AND in front of the camera. So, you must understand my slight frustration when I read about, and viewed Vanity Fair’s current cover story- “New Hollywood,” and it’s accompanying photo spread. This “New Hollywood” includes an array of a-list actresses who’ve starred in noteworthy films. I have no gripe with that. But the fact that the list includes not a single actress who isn’t white, thin, or of an acceptable Hollywood “look,” lets me know that there’s still MUCH work to do in this business.
I acknowledge that roles for black actresses, and other actresses of color, continue to be limited and sometimes scarce, but that doesn’t excuse Vanity Fair from not featuring the black, Latina, multi-racial, Asian, and Indian actresses who have starred in “Hollywood” films recently, and the praise they’ve received. Some of these actresses include Zoe Saldana, who starred in two major blockbusters- Avatar and Star Trek, Mo’ Nique (a Golden-Globe winning actress) and Gabourey Sidibe who starred in the Oscar-nominated film Precious, Viola Davis who gave a heart-wrenching performance in Doubt, Nicole Beharie who starred in the largely ignored American Violet, and Oscar-nominated actress Taraji P. Henson who’s starred in numerous films. Where are they? Are they not a part of the “new” Hollywood? Whether we agree with, or appreciate the roles they play is besides the point here. They’ve starred in films distributed by Hollywood studios, and have worked just as hard, if not harder, than their counterparts on the Vanity Fair cover.
Vanity Fair’s “New Hollywood” seems only to perpetuate “old” Hollywood ideologies and images; ones that leave black, Latina, Asian, and Indian actresses outside of the popular paradigm of equal cinematic representation. In that “old” Hollywood, black actresses were lucky to get a role playing a Mammy. Now in this “New” Hollywood, they are conveniently glossed out, even after movies they’ve starred in maintain the highest box office receipts of all time (Zoe Saldana in Avatar). Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t see what’s “new” about that? Sounds like good ol’ exclusion to me.