Nowadays, I’ve noticed that there’s been a growing wave of female celebrities who are using their platform to incite change by speaking against social injustices, like the gender pay gap. In her Emmy acceptance speech, actress Michelle Williams urged the audience, “The next time a woman – and especially a woman of color, because she stands to make 52 cents on the dollar compared to her white male counterpart – tells you what she needs in order to do her job, listen to her. Believe her.” It’s so important to heed the underlying message here: This is a call to the greater community to make a conscious effort to create a healthy and inclusive work environment in which male, female and non-binary individuals are valued for their work.
Growing up, when I watched award shows like the Oscars, Emmys, Grammys and MTV awards, I’d watch solely to confirm whether or not my favorite artists or actors secured wins in the most mainstream categories, and then promptly fall asleep thereafter. The next day I’d wake up and continue listening to and watching the same artists and actresses. It wasn’t a huge of a deal to me.
Fast-forward to the present day, and I find myself looking specifically for women of color, and in general, Black, Latinx, Asian and South Asian representation across the nominations, and ultimately, award winners. This doesn’t exclusively apply to awards shows, but also on the covers of magazines like Elle and Time. For example, Mindy Kaling and Hasan Minhaj were featured as the front covers of Elle and Vanity Fair, respectively.
Mindy Kaling is an Indian American comedian and a success in the Hollywood industry: a director, writer and actress, known for her original role as Kelly Kapoor in “The Office.” To top it all off, Kaling has written two New York Times bestselling memoirs entitled, “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?” and “Why Not Me?” Another example is “The Daily Show” alum Hasan Minhaj, who is Indian American and Muslim, hosts his own Netflix show providing a nuanced political commentary to global news.
When I saw the two covers come out, I recall feeling a sense of pride. It’s funny because it’s not like a family member or best friend of mine was on the cover. But as a person of color, there’s something especially impactful and personal about seeing someone who looks like you or talks like you or whose beliefs deeply resonate with yours make it big in a field that is predominantly occupied by white men.
I look up to all the female, Indian-American trailblazers attempting to break the glass ceiling. It’s essential to support, share and re-share all the content produced by up-and-coming women of color to assist them in achieving their goals, no matter how small or large scale they may be. For example, Lilly Singh, an openly bisexual Indian-Canadian woman — better known as YouTube’s “Superwoman” — recently became the first woman of color to host her own late-night talk show, “A Little Late with Lilly Singh.” She joined NBC’s league of male hosts: Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers and Conan O’Brien.
In 2016, the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism faculty conducted a research study on “Hollywood Equality: All Talk, Little Action.” The results of the study confirmed expectations: Across 800 films, representation of gender, race/ethnicity, sexual identity and portrayal of disability misrepresents the diversity of the American population. A few key, alarming highlights from the study include: Among 886 directors, only 5.5 percent were Black and 2.8 percent were Asian. To break this down even further, of the 5.5 percent black or African-American directors, only three were female and of the 2.8 percent Asian or Asian-American directors, only one was female. What’s even more frustrating, USC concluded that if filmmakers added five female roles to scripts each year this would bring us to roughly a 50-50 male to female ratio. This is a seemingly simple fix to address gender inequality in films.
As students at the University of Michigan, we are privileged to have unrestricted access to a wide variety of educational resources and hundreds of year-round opportunities to attend events run by multicultural clubs and student organizations, which include annual cultural shows, student dialogues and culturally informative fundraisers. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to go out and support budding student comedians, activists and artists. This will amplify the representation of people in important platforms and creative spaces that lack non-white roles. It only makes sense to populate industries with the same level of diversity that is reflective of the composition of America and aligns with American ideals of equity and inclusion.
Perhaps the most important line from Williams’s speech, “they understood that when you put value into a person, it empowers that person to get in touch with their own inherent value. And then where do they put that value? They put it into their work.”
Varna Kodoth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.