Two years ago, on the heels of the #MeToo movement, celebrities, studios, and executives started talking about two words—diversity and inclusion. They created programs and initiatives that were meant to foster change. However, the promised change has not come. “If the numbers are not changing, the ecosystem is not doing enough to ensure that everyone is getting access and opportunity. Traditionally, it has been that folks who are connected to others in the industry that get access. That closed system must change. ” Inclusion Initiative Founder Stacey Smith said to the LA Times in August 2020.
What has changed is a growing number of Black voices exposing racism and other maltreatment behind the scenes. Orlando Jones came forward in 2019 about racism and ill-treatment in the second season of the STARZ show American Gods. The studio promised an investigation, yet the story and Jones were quickly swept out of the news cycle. Gabrielle Union found that her reporting of maltreatment on the set of America’s Got Talent were handled in a similar fashion. The moment that she and her case were no longer news, they were all but dismissed. (Note: Both cases are still ongoing.)
That, however, was before the year 2020 went left, locked down a nation just in time to peel their eyelids back as activists with cellphones captured the racism that Black America had been enduring for generations. Now, even your average housewife can quote Ibram Kendi on antiracism while doxing their own Karens for a microaggression no one would’ve blinked at in January 2020. The NFL apologized and white people began renaming their own buildings, streets, and to remove homages to horrible racist men in history.
The industry has been locked down and watching all of this go down as well. They’ve seen the grassroots power of the anti-racist movement and what it has done. But, has that been enough to make them call their own into account? Black actors are poised to test them now with John Boyega’s fresh claims of racism on the set of Star Wars and Ray Fisher’s pursuit of justice against Geoff Johns, Joss Whedon, and Jon Berg for his maltreatment on the set of Justice League. They are both backed by millions of angered fans who are tired of the persistent racism, but is that enough to make an industry entrenched in racism turn itself around? A look at the progress in these claims and the state of Hollywood today should shed some light on the conversation about the future.
The War Behind Star Wars
John Boyega made an impassioned speech about Black lives earlier this summer. The moment that seemed to resonate with the world was his acknowledgment that he may not have a job after speaking out at the BLM march in this way. Boyega told GQ in a recent interview, that such an admission was tremendous for white people. It became another shock to the system in the summer of awakenings on racial issues. Hearing their beloved Finn say that he experienced racism while filming a fave franchise like Star Wars–and that he could face retaliation for speaking on it–more than a shock.
In the GQ article, he also spoke about how Disney marketed the Black character Finn only to push him aside later. The character wasn’t just pushed aside, it was placed into the narrative in a way left him undeveloped and seemingly an afterthought. The narrative promises hinted at in the first film as well as the marketing were forgotten by the second and nonexistent in the last one. This was a sort of a confirmation to fans who were confused about the arcs of characters Finn and Rose, played by Kelly Marie Tran. Poe, played by Oscar Isaac was also seeming pushed from the feature space. The last two films of the saga became a last-minute eerie, rapey romance narrative between the two white leads. Boyega opened up about this first during that fateful BLM protest and then a bit more since. His voice joined a growing chorus.
So far, the studios involved have not issued any statements.
Persistence is a Part of #Borglife
Boyega’s story is in harmony with that of Ray Fisher, who has been openly discussing similar issues on social media. This summer, he too started discussing the treatment he experienced on the set of the Justice League theatrical release after Zack Snyder’s departure. See my interview with Fisher here and here. First, there was a hint, that he experienced mistreatment and was going to fight. Then, tweets from Fisher supporting Joss Whedon’s past accusers Charisma Carpenter and Eliza Dushku were followed by even more revelations.
Then, just at the fan event Justice Con, Fisher spent an hour chatting with fans and dropped a bomb onto the platform. A formal investigation had been initiated and was ongoing. Someone with authority, a third party, was investigating Whedon, Berg, and Johns—and not just Ray’s claims, but those of past accusers as well. Fisher had already been a fan favorite with his hashtag #Borglife and followers on Twitter and Twitch. His Justice Con revelation brought more fans to his side. In the days that followed, Fisher became breaking news with every tweet, Instagram Live, and Twitch stream.
Now, it seems that the studio is listening. Fisher tweeted out on Sept. 2, 2020, that the president of WB reached out, presumably with an olive branch.
So you can better understand how deep this goes:
After speaking out about Justice League, I received a phone call from the President of DC Films wherein he attempted to throw Joss Whedon and Jon Berg under the bus in hopes that I would relent on Geoff Johns.
I will not.
— Ray Fisher (@ray8fisher) September 4, 2020
Fisher swatted it away. Why? Because it was like all deals made with BIPOC when their word can bring the pain down upon the powerful people. He was asked to compromise to save the neck of a beloved white person, Geoff Johns. Fisher refused and rightfully so. Such a compromise would not change things. It would only allow the corporation to continue business as usual. This also means that others suffering silently right now under similar circumstances see no relief.
Bringing the Systemic Racism to Light
Meanwhile, Fisher is steadfast, and he has the support of fans. He also has the best timing ever, as this is the moment that the veil is being lifted from the systemic racism that Black people once suffered in silence. The microaggressions and other forms of passive racism are now being shared across social media, with personal accounts revealing the tactics appearing in international publications like The Guardian, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. Looking for a breakdown of the words to discuss this topic? Business Insider has you covered. The work is being done to educate the masses. All one has to do is Google. Fisher thus has little to explain and even less to hold back the grassroots campaign to support him through this process.
This also means that Americans are reacting differently to the stories like Ray’s. When I posted on Twitter about passive racism in the use of words like “uncooperative” used in the media for this story, other fans were eager to discuss. Just a year ago, my words would’ve met violent pushback, just as my article on the whitewashing of the Justice League movie did. A year ago, my DMs were flooded with messages accusing me of race-baiting and trying to politicize comics. I was told that my “SJW views” were not wanted in the fandom. Now, the times have changed, and people are seeing that not only are these forms of racism real but that they permeate the fandoms we love so much.
Fisher’s and Boyega’s admissions have created important dialogues within the fandoms. Fans are seeing how their favorite characters were manipulated onscreen and how racism behind the scenes may have been the culprit. Now, people are remembering other stars who opened up about racism in Hollywood. Candice Patton, from The Flash, Gabrielle Union from America’s Got Talent, Orlando Jones from American Gods, Amber Reilly from Glee, and most notably Nicole Beharie who recently opened up about maltreatment on the set of Sleepy Hollow. They are all a part of the same chorus as Boyega and Fisher. It is my hope as a fan of them all that these voices joined together to bring this important dialogue to Hollywood and change to the entire industry. The timing is perfect. And the fans are primed to lend support.