*If you’re not a straight white man:
by Melena Ryzik
The statistics are unequivocal: Women and minorities are vastly underrepresented in front of and behind the camera. Here, 27 industry players reveal the stories behind the numbers — their personal experiences of not feeling seen, heard or accepted, and how they pushed forward. In Hollywood, exclusion goes far beyond #OscarsSoWhite. (Interviews have been edited and condensed.)
SAM ESMAIL Creator, “Mr. Robot”Growing up, I [thought] white male was the norm, the default character in every story. I never thought other possibilities could exist. And I remember thinking, when I would watch Woody Allen films or films that felt personal, I wonder what I’m going to do when I write my personal films, because I can’t cast an Egyptian-American; that would be weird. In film school, there was this need to talk about your ethnicity and to make essentially social-message films. But I resisted, because I felt that it changed the conversation of what the movie was about.
WENDELL PIERCE Actor, “The Wire,” “Grease: Live”, “Confirmation” (coming on HBO)Juilliard was a great place to train and prepare for the politics of the business. You were given roles [based on] how you fit into the company. I didn’t get any roles that weren’t 20, 30 years my elder. We had a running joke, the black actors, “If you come here you better get your funny walks, because you’re going to be playing all the old guys.”
JIMMY SMITS Actor, “The Get Down” (coming on Netflix), co-founder, National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts[After] Brooklyn College, somebody said, “You can probably go to L.A. now and be the crook of the week on ‘Hill Street Blues,’ but you should think about graduate school.” [At] Cornell — I got a scholarship — I got to do everything. I could handle verse, I could speak Shaw, I could do Pinter.
TEYONAH PARRIS Actress, “Chi-Raq,” “Survivor’s Remorse”[At Juilliard], we got together with other black people in different classes, and we said, “Hey, we want to do an August Wilson play. There are enough black people to make this happen.” So we rehearsed on our free time and put on this showcase, and the faculty came, other students came, and I guess that was inspiring to them. [Later, they did an official school production.] That was the first time they put an August Wilson play on the main stage, in 2007….