By Milton Dewar
September 25, 2017
Let’s face it. Entertainment’s diversity issue is probably older than Thomas Edison’s Kinetograph movie camera itself, and although women and minorities have made it quite some way with some incredible strides since the late 1800's, the pernicious problem continues to loom large, even as the shifting sociopolitical landscape on race, gender, and sexual orientation, gradually attempts to dislodge discrimination’s roots. But as we celebrate the slow-motion expulsion of a sequoia-sized scourge, are the quantitative demands of diversity, threatening to crack the qualitative lens of excellence in the arts? Is this new renaissance of diversity recognition, organically meritorious, or simply the product of a sociopolitical expedience gone wild? If the honoring of our artists and their art is ever improperly or solely influenced by a compensatory agenda to right past wrongs, beware the Pyrrhic victory, if the requisite grip on film quality control collapses, and candor takes a backseat to political correctness. Just because a woman did it, doesn’t make it good. Just because a minority made it, doesn’t make it great. Just because it’s gay, doesn’t make it grand, and just because “it’s time,” doesn’t make something timeless.
Welcome to the danger of artistic diversity, where the laser-like focus on a movement of social identity and its accompanying themes, risks casting a lingering shadow of nagging questions over even the brightest of achievements. Was director Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” really that good? Or did the feminist public relations machine emphasizing the fact that the film had a female director, demand that it HAD to, and must be? Was the decision to award African-American Writer and Actress, Lena Waithe, with a historic Emmy win for comedy writing, driven solely by the recognition of the demonstration of raw talent? Or some perceived civic duty by the powers that be, to ceremonially embrace her lesbian sexuality above all else, first and foremost? And what about Rapper and Actor, Donald Glover? Was his historic Black Emmy win for comedy series directing, on the same night, more than just coincidence? Was it designed to strategically satiate critics, when the arts debate about race and inclusivity, happens to be at its angriest peak? Unfortunately, this can’t be known with any absolute certainty, and as a result, the danger behind diversity becomes ever more apparent; now that we’re “in attendance,” will our mere presence; who we are, serve as the overarching justification for reward, going forward? Because if this is truly the case (as the optics of developing trends MIGHT suggest), then the competitive quality of the art form is approaching a terrible jeopardy, at a time when the hunt for excellence is obligated to reach far deeper than identity, in a densely populated field of emerging artists.
While it’s to be expected that the contemporary sociopolitical dialogue on diversity, will inevitably shape the arts to varying degrees, for the arts and the ceremonial recognitions thereof to maintain a requisite artistic impartiality (or even the semblance of such), it’s important that the continuing debate serves as a guide, as opposed to a prescription. Achievement is cheapened, when recognition is considered owed, rather than earned, and prizes and praise, predicated upon mere participation, is nothing more than appeasement. This isn’t an indictment of our diverse artists, nor the quality of their artistry, but an interrogation of how recognition, and all of its facets, should remain free of the appearance of undue, and politically charged influence.
When it comes to the arts and our artists, merit should precede the movement, purity should overwhelm the politics, and diversity must be handled with discipline, in order to protect the quality of our artistic contributions and rewards from question, and the sanctity of our evolving institutions from the dangers of a new, and unintended inequity, where talent becomes secondary to politics and identity.