Star Wars: The Force Awakens had a relatively diverse cast, and now director J.J. Abrams has enacted a new hiring system that will ensure all of his future films will be equally, if not more, diverse.
The director said during the New York Times’s New Work Summit conference on Tuesday (Mar. 1) that his production company Bad Robot now requires agencies and movie studios around Hollywood to submit women and minority job candidates roughly equal to their representation in the United States population. The Wall Street Journal first reported the move last week (paywall).
“It has to be a systemic approach,” Abrams said. “Any list that we get—it needs to be, at the very least, representative of the country we live in. Which roughly breaks down to: 50% women, 12% black, 18% percent Hispanic, 6% Asian.”
These lists include writers, directors, and producers, in addition to actors.
The new hiring practice at Bad Robot comes in the wake of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy that ballooned across social media and the internet after the Oscars failed to nominate a single non-white actor for the second year in a row. But Abrams pointed out that the Oscars controversy was merely symptomatic of a bigger problem—that too few women and minorities are involved in the Hollywood filmmaking process.
Abrams has a pretty long history of employing minority actors. For instance, the hit TV show Lost, which Abrams co-created, had one of the most diverse casts in the history of television. Its original cast featured an Asian couple, an interracial couple, a single black father, a Hispanic man, and a Muslim man—the types of faces you’d expect to see on an actual transpacific flight.
But the Star Wars director is certainly not the first major Hollywood player to make strides toward a more diverse industry. Last year, HBO launched a writing fellowship aimed at giving a voice to emerging minority writers. And last month, the non-profit production company We Do It Together was created to focus on female empowerment in TV and film. The group counts actresses Jessica Chastain and Queen Latifah among its board of advisors.
Still, there’s a long way to go before the movies look and feel anything like the actual country that makes them. About half of the moviegoing population in the US is non-white, while only 22% of the on-screen characters are.