Activism in Hollywood: Where Inspiration Has Been and Where It Should Go

Hollywood is a thing we have all experienced before – switching on the TV to take in bright colours, fast-moving motion pictures, and the emotion created throughout the hour(s) long pastime has now become so common, but before getting excited about all new movies and shows yet to come, I want to look back at how the entertainment industry has forged inspiration and activism in the past. Its ability to do so has opened doors for more change through entertainment to happen, with the potential to address not only race and diversity but also issues like climate change, inequality, and gender pay, just to name a few.

When we focus our eyes on the entertainment industry, we can look back at how social issues are portrayed throughout each story on screen. Whether it be true crime or an action film, activism and the acknowledgment of social issues draws from real-life tragedy and triumph, allowing for audiences to find inspiration or education through it all. One of the best and most recent Hollywood movements is the one of diverse representation, and one of the best films to accomplish this mission was Black Panther.

Lupita Nyong’o, Chadwick Boseman, and Letitia Wright in Black Panther. Image via Marvel Studios.

Marvel’s Black Panther, directed by Ryan Coogler in 2018, not only has action, power, and drama, but it tells the story of a superhero inspired by Black culture and heritage. The casting of all Black talent, actors, and movie creatives allowed young boys and girls to see a representation of themselves that was true and heroic in a huge blockbuster film. Seeing such diverse representation is often surprising just because Hollywood has become accustomed to not prioritizing diverse casting or representing their audience. Chadwick Boseman playing The Black Panther was an incredible move for displaying on-screen diversity and his performance is one that will always be remembered by audiences worldwide.

“Relating to characters onscreen is necessary,” writes Jamil Smith of Time Magazine, “Not merely for us to feel seen and understood, but also for others who need to see and understand us.“ Ryan Coogler, as someone working in Hollywood, made influential moves as a director on this film by not only creating a film of true representation for Black audiences but also for using his platform to show millions “a superhero film that deals with issues of being of African descent.”

Amandla Stenberg as Starr Carter in The Hate U Give. Image via 20th Century Fox.

Many times in Hollywood, issues of race and gender roles are often overshadowed by story, but films that portray these hardships and issues can often be emotional for audiences because they’re not only moving and true, but they also call on audiences to act on their empathy. The film The Hate U Give brings to the screen massive insight into racism. Rioting for civil rights, the issues that arise because of racism, and the isolation Black children face in schools are all in this movie. 

When I first watched The Hate U Give, I cried a lot because of how well this movie portrayed the emotions and feelings required to convey a real yet tragic experience. Seeing Amandla Stenberg play the female lead, Starr Carter, in the film not only showcases representation but also sheds light on the written roles of women in Hollywood.

In comparison to men, women are not represented enough in the entertainment industry. Men get the roles. Men get the bigger parts. Men get the first choice. Even having female directors alone is so unusual because of how male-dominated the entertainment industry often is, from male-run production companies to all-male teams and highly-praised male actors. Seeing Starr Carter in a film like The Hate U Give is influential and important as it shines a light on both race representation, gender representation, and social issues. However, with a rise in diverse casting, diverse movie creators, writers, and directors, there is a lot more change to continue to hope for in the future.

DuVernay and Caleel Harris on set of When They See Us. Image via Atsushi Nishijima and Netflix.

Ava DuVernay is currently one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed female directors. One of her latest projects, When They See Us was a short true-crime series that portrayed the unfairness five innocent Black boys had to face in the 80s, and it shocked audiences all over the world. The talent behind DuVernay’s directing is how painful it can feel to watch young boys be brutalized for the color of their skin on screen. The series is difficult to watch because of how hard-hitting these true stories are, but they need to be told and heard in the most accurate of ways.

Nobody wants the way Hollywood is right now to be the norm anymore. We want diversity. We want female leads, strong and powerful. We want to see Black characters leading the way, superhero or not. Our entertainment industry should look like and reflect the world around us.

Films and shows like When They See Us or Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station are incredible ways to introduce hardships and social issues to larger audiences, but after the films are over, what is the industry doing to continue the activism? From actors like Chadwick Boseman and Amandla Stenberg to directors like Ryan Coogler and Ava DuVernay, a lot of Black voices in Hollywood are more inspiring to me than the entire entertainment industry itself. Their work and their mission for bringing activism to the screen inspire me to want to bring activism into my life.

Edited by Camille Duhon