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More needs to be done to improve diversity in film

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At the Cannes Film Festival this year, Sofia Coppola won the Best Director award for her film The Beguiled. The last time this was won by a woman (Yuliya Solntseva in 1961), the Berlin Wall was being constructed and the Bay of Pigs was a current event.

Hollywood

While other female directors have won other awards at Cannes over the years, such as Angela Arnold winning the Jury Awards in 2006, 2009 and 2016, only one has ever won the top prize – the Palme d’Or – which was Jane Campion in 1993 for The Piano.

This win for Coppola was seen as a positive, if not a long overdue step forward in terms of equality in the film industry, but it is only a tiny part of a larger picture. Jury members Jessica Chastain and Will Smith both discussed their own issues with the characters and stories that they saw over the festival – such as the lack of black characters and minority voices, and questionable representations of women.

Why is it that a movement towards an industry that better reflects society seems only able to slowly inch along towards equality and diversity? And why can it only deal with one aspect of diversity at a time?

The vital Oscars So White movement rightly pushed back at the criminal lack of black voices at the two previous Academy Awards, leading to a better representation of diversity this year – with Moonlight taking the Best Picture Award. But, yet again, there were no women nominated for Best Director.

In my opinion, the movement towards a more diverse and reflective film industry has three different aspects: in front of the camera, behind the camera and representation.

Clearly, if there are more black scriptwriters, producers and directors, this will lead to more roles that don’t just call for a black ‘sidekick’, for example. Different sections of society should be able to tell their own stories, not only through feeling that they are able, but also through having the resources and funding made available to those sections of society that haven’t historically been represented in the film industry.

However, it’s not all negative. Although progression sometimes feels like it crawls along at a snail’s pace, large franchises are less likely to feature a homogenous, largely white cast.

The recent spate of films from the Star Wars universe have had casts made up of Mexican actors, black British actors, Latino actors and prominent Asian and British-Asian actors – vastly different from the casts of the 1970s original films. While these casting decisions can and have had provoke childish reactions from the more vocal sections of fans, this, mercifully has not had an impact on Disney and Lucasfilm’s casting choices.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story took $1.065 billion at the box office – clearly an example of how the racist and sexist outlooks of a minute number of fans has little impact on the economic success. So much for a boycott.

Things are moving forwards for female directors as well. Ava DuVernay is the first black female director to helm a $100m film, A Wrinkle in Time, starring yet another positively diverse cast of Oprah, Mindy Kaling and Reese Witherspoon, to name but a few.

I’m not suggesting that I have the ability to transform and change the film industry, but if we all support racial and gender diversity in film and celebrate stories with positive and interesting characters who aren’t just reduced to a blanket stereotype, then the industry will take notice.

Money talks, and if more people actively support different and unique films then we have the opportunity to influence an industry into representing what we, as members of a diverse and multicultural community, see and experience in our lives.

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