Calls for diversity have targeted every industry, and when it comes to Hollywood, the success of films such as Straight Outta Compton and television shows such as Scandal and Fresh Off the Boat reveal that there's a thirst and an audience for diverse storytelling. Though some doors in the entertainment business are opening, many still appear closed. A report earlier this year from UCLA's Bunche Center reveals that white men continue to dominate the field, including screenwriters, film directors, and awards show accolades. One particularly eye-popping statistic is that 94 percent of studio heads are white and 100 percent are male.
Of course, rising from aspirant to established filmmaker is difficult for everyone. One of the reasons is that there is no clear path. Someone who strikes out on his or her own might find success, and someone who gets a formal education in film school might not. And vice versa. As someone who attended film school, I can also say that it is very expensive, particularly at the graduate level, where substantial scholarships are few and far between.
In light of all of this comes news of a recent $10 million endowment from the George Lucas Family Foundation to support the "recruitment of talented USC School of Cinematic Arts students from communities that are underrepresented in the entertainment industry." The gift will establish the George Lucas Foundation Endowed Student Support Fund for Diversity, which will provide financial support for African-American and Hispanic USC students. Support will be split evenly between male and females students who will be known as George Lucas Scholars or Mellody Hobson Scholars, respectively.
As Lucas puts it: "Hispanic and African-American storytellers are underrepresented in the entertainment industry. It is Mellody’s and my privilege to provide this assistance to qualified students who want to contribute their unique experience and talent to telling their stories.”
Lucas has been a strong supporter of his alma mater, giving a $175 million grant to USC’s film school in 2006, $75 million of which was used to rename and rebuild the cinema school. Lucas' philanthropy has been especially focused on education, and we've written before about Lucas' progressive approach to K-12 reform and his potential to make some major waves in that space.
- In This Corner of the Education Fight: Heavyweight George Lucas
- A Big Bet by George Lucas to Improve How Schools Teach and Kids Learn
Regarding Lucas' latest gift, I couldn't help but notice that a lot more funding has been pumped into making sure minority youth are prepared for, say, STEM than the arts. To be sure, this is true across the board, not just for underrepresented populations. And don't get me wrong—making sure youth are well represented in math and science fields is critical, as is the prospect of strong career options. But the arts are also important, and it's good to see one of Hollywood's most prominent filmmakers injecting money into that cause.