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Actress-writer Waithe: Films fall short of ethnic equality


LOS ANGELES — Hollywood is falling short of ethnic equality despite black-led films including “Black Panther,” actress and award-winning writer Lena Waithe said.

There are “a million ‘La La Lands’ every year. How often do we get a ‘Moonlight’? How often do we get ‘Black Panther’?” she said. “What to me will be true equality is when ‘Black Panther’ comes out and it’s just like ‘Captain America.'”

Waithe, an actress and Emmy-winning screenwriter with the streaming comedy “Master of None” who was in the film “Ready Player One,” joined in conversation with comedian Hannah Gadsby at an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences lunch.

The event marked the launch of Action: The Academy Women’s Initiative, aimed at creating opportunities for female filmmakers to network and celebrate inclusiveness. It included the presentation of a newly established Academy Gold Fellowship to young filmmaker Geeta Malik, writer-director of the award-winning online short “Aunty Gs” and films including “Beast” and “Troublemaker.”

Music legend Annie Lennox also spoke at the lunch, recounting how her activism was inspired after hearing South African leader Nelson Mandela describe how the scourge of HIV and AIDS was particularly devastating for women.

There are many other crises faced by women and girls worldwide, Lennox said, including sex trafficking, physical and sexual abuse and illiteracy.

“That is why I endorse global feminism,” she said, which encompasses Western nations as well as places where women “can’t reach the lowest rung.” Men must also be welcomed into the cause, she said.

“If men and boys are excluded from the dialogue, we’re left with the same old misogyny,” Lennox said.

Gadsby, an Australian comic who made a splash with her standup special “Nanette,” said her autism has made her acutely aware of screen characters who are relegated to the “periphery” of the action.

She said television has become a “Trojan horse” that brings such sidelined characters into the forefront of stories.

When Gadsby lauded Waithe for bringing diversity to the screen, Waithe said she felt the pressure of falling short as a representative of her ethnic group.

“No straight white man represents anything but himself,” she said.

Waithe also touched briefly on TV personality Megyn Kelly’s defense of blackface as a Halloween costume, which led to the cancellation of her NBC “Megyn Kelly Today” morning show. Waithe suggested that blackface was something that whites used to denigrate blacks but, “in a weird way,” also indicated they want to experience being black.

“There’s a love for us. But how do you love us?” she said. “I want us to cherish Trayvon Martin alive, as much as we do when he’s gone,” referring to the unarmed African-American teenager shot to death in Florida by a former neighborhood watch volunteer in 2012.

Amy Adams, Anika Noni Rose, Rashida Jones and Lily Collins were among those attending the event held by the academy and initiative partners E! Entertainment and Swarovski.



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