Hollywood has taken great strides in recent years to achieve greater inclusion and diversity. The Academy has worked to transform the make up of its voting body, and many initiatives have popped up around Hollywood to fuel inclusion, but what exactly the industry is working toward is unclear.
“Diversity is when we get the ability and the chance to tell stories from our perspective and not tokenistic stories but really emotionally, intellectually and creatively that come from our view of the world, how we see the world and then how we move forward from that,” said writer-director Gurinder Chadha, whose new film “Blinded by the Light” is premiering at Sundance.
Chadha was joined by comedian-musician-filmmaker Reggie Watts during a Sundance panel discussion sponsored by TheWrap on what true diversity means and what it might look like in Hollywood.
Her film follows a 16-year-old British Pakistani boy whose life is changed when his friend loans him Bruce Springsteen cassettes. Springsteen’s working-class anthems and affirming lyrics embolden him to find his own voice as a writer, stand up to the racism around him, and challenge his father’s rigid ideals.
“I try to make the most commercial films I can, but from that perspective,” Chadha said.
She went on to say that when she made the 2003 international hit “Bend It Like Beckham,” she was told, “it’s a great film but it won’t work in the U.S.”
“I think that’s the problem,” Chadha said. “There are plenty of people out there who are very capable and able to tell those stories but we have an industry that feels that those stories won’t transcend or won’t be commercial, and other people who aren’t of the ilk of the people in the movie who won’t get them. And that’s the real problem I think.”
Last year saw the box office and critical success of films like “Black Panther” and “Crazy Rich Asians,” but Chadha said the goal is to not see those as one-offs, but for the industry to accept and understand that people desire more of these stories and more explorations of this perspectives.
To some extent, that may mean the gatekeepers of Hollywood getting out of their own way, or filmmakers subverting Hollywood, Watts believes.
“For me, it’s about filmmakers with any kind of inexperience just making what they want to make and get it out there anyway that they can,” Watts said. “The more that you break down the power of these narrow gateways, there’s a higher likelihood that they’ll see that this is a worthwhile endeavor commercially. Getting the viewpoint correct from a voice that you don’t usually see represented is what it’s all about.”
Watts has dipped his toe into the world of virtual story telling at Sundance, with his project “Runnin’,” a surreal, high-energy, interactive dance party, driven by his and John Tejada’s music track.
Watts said during the panel on Saturday that he envisions a world where audiences could even use VR to enter the home of a culturally different family as part of a film or entertainment experience and begin to understand that different perspective first hand.
While there are certainly other steps to take, for Chadha, there is progress to be recognized.
“In 1992 I made my first feature, and I was the first Asian woman to make a feature film in Britain. All these years later I’m still the only Asian woman making feature films in Britain, which is s–t,” Chadha said. “But you look here at Sundance, there’s at least four of us here, which would have been unheard of a few years back, and now we’re going, ‘Man, where are all the white dudes?’ So I think that’s progress to me.”