Hollywood’s New Rules
The old boys club is dead. But a new one—with its own litmus tests and landmines—is rapidly replacing it. ‘This is all going to end in a giant class-action lawsuit.’
A few years ago, the editor-in-chief of The Hollywood Reporter pitched a story to the newsroom. He had just come back from lunch with a well-known agent, who had suggested the paper take a look at the unintended consequences of Hollywood’s efforts to diversify. Those white men who had spent decades writing scripts—which had been turned into blockbuster movies and hit television shows—were no longer getting hired. The newsroom blew up. The reporters, especially the younger ones, mocked the idea that white men were on the outs. The editor-in-chief, normally self-assured, immediately backtracked. He looked rattled. It was a missed opportunity. The story wasn’t just about white guys not getting jobs. Nor was it really about the economics of Hollywood. It was about the stories Hollywood told and distributed and streamed on screens around the globe every day. It was about this massively lucrative industry that had been birthed by outsiders and emerged, out of lemon groves, into a glamorous, glitzy mosh pit teeming with chutzpah and broken hearts and unbelievable success stories that had made the American Dream a real, pulsating thing—for Americans and billions of other people who thought that if you could imagine something, anything, you could will it into being. It was a story about who we aspired to be. After the meeting, a reporter approached another editor about pursuing it. The editor told the reporter to drop it. No one, he said, at The Hollywood Reporter—one of a handful of trade publications that covers the ins and outs of the entertainment industry—was going to risk blowing up their career over this.
The “explosion of woke,” as one longtime producer put it, didn’t come out of nowhere.
Hollywood had always pushed boundaries—from the 1947 “Gentleman’s Agreement,” which confronted antisemitism, to “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (1967), which tackled interracial marriage, to “All in the Family” (1971-1979), which grappled with race and women’s liberation. The original run of “Will and Grace” (1998-2006), did more to advance the cause of gay marriage than anything else pre-Obergefell.
And then there were the villains: The vast majority—from the Terminator to Hannibal Lecter to Gordon Gekko—were uber-white: an Austrian (robot), a Lithuanian, a WASPy, pinstriped capitalist. (For the insider’s list, see this from The Hollywood Reporter.) But it wasn’t until 2015—when the #OscarsSoWhite controversy engulfed the 87th Academy Awards—that studio chiefs and producers really started to rethink how they did business. This gained momentum in 2016, and even more in late 2017, with #MeToo.
Then came George Floyd, and, in the summer of 2020, everything that had been happening in slow motion started to happen much faster.