Today we honor an American hero. A man who worked tirelessly to unite a country and promote equality. His message of peace and unity transcends language barriers and generational gaps. Although we still have a long way to go, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his colleagues' actions were the catalyst for change. Today, we honor their legacy.
While some may celebrate a day off from work or school, it's important that we remember that this holiday is truly about the selfless work of others to create a better future; it's only right that we continue to pursue that work in whatever way we can. Personally, I think that storytellers are in an especially unique position to use our platforms to tell stories that matter. Representation and diversity are integral to our ever-evolving society, and I for one would rather use my voice for good in whatever small way that I can, even as a writer.
But studies prove that the entertainment industry is failing when it comes to addressing representation and diversity. For example, a 2016 USC study(1) found that only one-third of speaking characters were female (33.5%), despite the fact that women represent just over half the population in America and only 28.3% of characters with dialogue were from non-white racial or ethnic groups, though these groups make up nearly 40% of the U.S. population.(2)
However, despite these shortcomings, I hope that Hollywood is finally warming up to the idea that inclusion is a step in the right direction, if not compelled morally but rather financially. On what would have been Martin Luther King Jr.'s 88th birthday, box office sales revealed that the African American and female-led Hidden Figures took the top spot for the second week in a row, and is the first predominantly female-led film to hold the position since 2011's The Help.(3) This is not only a win for the cast and crew of Hidden Figures but the entire industry. Women and people of color provide welcomed and necessary perspectives, and audiences have proven that they want to see more.
Clearly, much has changed in the nearly 50 years since Dr. King's death, but without his work, the likelihood of such change and progress within the entertainment industry and society as a whole would be slim. It's our responsibility to continue shifting the industry to a place that is inclusive, diverse, and equally represents all genders, sexual orientations, races, ethnicities, and abilities. If we have learned anything from the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement, people can change the world, so long as we use our voices.
(1) University of California, Institute for Diversity and Empowerment at Annenberg (IDEA); "Inclusion or Invisibility? Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity in Entertainment."
(2) Eric Deggans, NPR; "Hollywood Has A Major Diversity Problem, USC Study Finds."
(3) Matthew Jacobs, Huffington Post; "'Hidden Figures' Is The First Movie With Multiple Female Leads To Remain No. 1 Since 2011."