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White People Totally Cool With How Things Are Going In Hollywood

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 25/02/2016 Maxwell Strachan
ATHENA IMAGE © Jamie Garbutt via Getty Images ATHENA IMAGE

Ask a white person if he or she thinks Hollywood has a diversity problem, and you’re likely to get a shrug at best. For all the noise online surrounding #OscarsSoWhite in the lead up to the 88th Academy Awards on Sunday, the truth is that white people on the whole believe the status quo in Hollywood to be perfectly acceptable, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov poll.

The survey, which polled U.S. adults between Feb. 4-7, found one in five white people believe Hollywood does not provide an adequate number of roles to minorities and should produce more films by and starring them.

But for the most part, they are totally cool with how things are going. Among those with an opinion on the matter, 62 percent of white people are happy with the number of movies by and starring racial minorities and 74 percent believe there to be an adequate amount of work available for them. Fourteen percent would even like to see fewer films by and about non-white people. 

Black Americans, on the other hand, disagree. Seventy-five percent of black people with an opinion would like Hollywood to produce more movies by and about racial minorities, and 87 percent believe the industry does not provide enough opportunities to racial minorities.  

It’s understandable enough why white people are content with the state of the movie and TV industry: They see themselves when they go to watch movies. A recently published study out of USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism found that 87 percent of directors in the TV and movie industry are white -- a much higher percentage than in the general U.S. population -- and that white people are overrepresented in front of the camera as well.

But there's another division between black and white America at play here as well, one involving how accurately white and non-white people believe minorities are portrayed on screen. While the poll found nearly half of white people believe Hollywood does a good job portraying racial minorities, and one-fourth aren’t sure, seven in 10 black Americans believe the movie industry gives into stereotypes when portraying people of color. Hispanic respondents were more likely than not to agree minorities are portrayed stereotypically. 

Why, exactly, are white and non-white people so divided over whether minorities are portrayed stereotypically on screen? Setting aside the issue of explicit racism, there's reason to believe the answer lies in the way we live: largely separated from people who do not look like us. 

“A lot of it is that our lives are still tremendously [racially] segregated,” said Cheryl Staats, a senior researcher at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University. “We’re not living in the same neighborhoods; we’re not going to the same schools; we’re not going to same houses of worship."

“So how much knowledge do [white people] actually have of the lives and dynamics and experiences of those non-white individuals?” she asked. 

A 2014 study out of the Public Religion Research Institute, which focuses on the intersection of religion, values and public life, provided evidence of that sense of racial separation, finding that other white people comprised the typical white American's close social circle. Living in such a bubble allows individuals to not question their own preconceived racial views, which makes them much less sensitive to racial stereotypes on the big screen, according to Robert P. Jones, the CEO at the Public Religion Research Institute.

“It’s not something that is on your average white American's radar screen in a natural or self-interested way," he said. "Sensitivity to that often depends on having someone in your social network who can draw your attention to it, so if you’re a white person, having an African-American friend who raises the issue and says, ‘I can’t believe the way they portrayed that character.'"

“There really are not that many institutions in American society today that foster these close friendships," he added. 

To get white people to truly care about and understand the views of minorities, they need to be not only near them, but close to them. That's a problem in a society where our schools are still largely segregated, where white people can and do choose to live amongst mostly other white people, where church is still divided along racial lines and where even many of our jobs are, too.

In truth, the problem isn’t that the Oscars are too white, or even that Hollywood is too white. The problem, let's be clear, is that white people are too white.


The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted Feb. 4-7 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls.You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov's nationally representative opinion polling. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be found here. More details on the polls' methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov's reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample, rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.

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