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Why Public Figures Should be Speaking Out About Diversity in the Arts

Public figures speaking out against a perceived social injustice is nothing new. Lupita Nyong’o criticised the “unconscious prejudice” that influenced the 2016 Oscar nominations in the same year that Jada and Will Smith announced that they would not be attending the event due to the lack of racial diversity in the nominees. Like many other areas within the arts, the film industry has for a long time been known to have a somewhat complicated relationship with diversity. Female creators are frequently overlooked, actors and actresses of colour are often snubbed individually and films with a predominantly non-white cast are seemingly underappreciated.

Image by Photo Mix

This year’s Oscar nominations are no different. The ongoing issue of racial diversity in the arts has been highlighted once again. With only one woman of colour being nominated: Cynthia Erivo for her role in the film ‘Harriet’, there’s obviously still a need for change in the film industry.

There is no shortage of diverse creators producing high quality work. Potential directorial nominees included Greta Gerwig for ‘Little Women’ and Jordan Peele for ‘Us’ yet both were snubbed in this year’s line-up, despite overwhelming critical acclaim, in favour of five all white male nominees. Celebrities have the platform and opportunities to speak up about these issues and to pressurise institutions. Their voices are necessary for creating more diverse industries. We should be expecting them to lead change rather than remain silent.

Image by Ingo Kramarek

There are unfortunately several public figures who still do not believe that helping to bring about social change is their responsibility. Stephen King recently stated that issues of diversity are not relevant in the arts. With this coming from an Oscar Academy member, it’s very worrying. Academy voters do have a responsibility to focus on art, but it is concerning to think that they could willingly fall under the prejudices highlighted by Nyong’o. And if public figures are not speaking out about these problems, then industries are not being held accountable for these issues.

Image by Charisse Kenion

With their huge growing platforms and influence, it seems that the responsibility to speak out against social injustices within the arts should fall on public figures. Their actions and attitudes have an incredibly wide reach, and their ability to influence an audience is a lot stronger the bigger their profile. Diversity and representation within the arts is scarce and public figures should be using their influence to bring attention to this issue. It’s time we stop waiting for progress and perhaps start demanding they use their positions to help us advocate for change.


Words by Tara N West.

Edited by Sarah Goswami. 

I am a third year student currently studying Philosophy and Politics at the University of Leeds.
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