CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:
Switching gears now. The year is winding down and that means Oscar season is winding up. Some movies are already getting buzz, like "Lincoln," "Argo" and "Zero Dark Thirty." That last film is about the search for Osama bin Laden. Here's a clip.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "ZERO DARK THIRTY")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN ##1: (as character) Do you really believe this story? Osama bin Laden?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as character) Yeah.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as character) What convinced you?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as character) Her confidence.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (as character) This is a professional attempt to avoid detection. Real tradecraft.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (as character) You're on a list. You of all people should know that, once you're on their list, you never get off.
HEADLEE: "Zero Dark Thirty" was directed by Kathryn Bigelow, and she made history when she became the first woman to win the Oscar for Best Director a couple of years ago, but the picture hasn't changed much for women. According to the Women in Hollywood blog, out of 282 films eligible for Best Picture this year, only 39 films were directed by women. That's less than 14 percent, and it's not much better for minorities.
After last year's Oscar ceremony, Samuel L. Jackson complained that no black actors had been asked even to present awards. Earlier we talked about this with filmmaker Reginald Hudlin. He recently helped produce another movie that's getting some Oscar buzz, "Django Unchained," and he's also one of the few African-American voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Welcome back to the program, Reginald.
REGINALD HUDLIN: Thank you.
HEADLEE: So I think the last time we spoke to you on this show was about a year ago and I wonder how far things have come. If you look back, what's the general scene for women and minorities in terms of top positions in Hollywood?
HUDLIN: It has not improved. Unfortunately, I think you have to look at it from the biggest picture, which is the state of the industry right now. And what we've been experiencing in Hollywood over the last several years is a tremendous contraction in the business. When the home video market collapsed, that was the profit margin for a big part of the theatrical motion picture business, so movie studios cut their slates from making 20 to 24 movies a year to 12 movies a year, in many cases. So that's just simply fewer jobs.
HEADLEE: But then that doesn't affect the proportions. Right? I mean we're talking about a ratio. I mean the number of women out of those either 24 or 12 films - why is it so low?
HUDLIN: Well, because when a studio has fewer at bats, then the fear-based decision-making that, you know, is typical in Hollywood gets amped up even more, so they go, OK, we've only get a few shots, so what are we going to spend our decreasing dollars on? We're going to spend it on big tent-pole movies because those are the things - we have to have a big summer movie. We have to have a big Christmas movie. So those take a disproportionate amount of the dollars and those kind of movies are really specialized kind of filmmaking, and very often people of color, women, they are gaining experience in those realms, and you have a few exceptions like Peter Ramsey, who did one of the big animated movies this year, "Rise of the Guardians," and obviously you have Kathryn Bigelow, but breaking into the movie business is hard, but breaking into that specialty business of big action, big special effects, that's an even further level of specialty.
HEADLEE: Well, explain to me then why that lags behind. I'm trying to pick this apart, so help me, Reginald, to really understand where the roadblock is. Are minorities and women just not following these paths? Is this more of a white male interest?
HUDLIN: Well, first of all, to even get the opportunity to do the low budget movie or the television commercial, those are highly competitive opportunities as well. I mean everything is hard, so every step, every challenge, there's millions of people trying to, quote-unquote, get qualified, right, to impress.
Let's look at, for example, the black film boom in the '80s and '90s - right - which, you know, I was a part of and, you know, several of my colleagues. You know, those were not the kind of movies I just described. Those were, for the most part, very personal stories sometimes, coming of age stories and so on, and those movies found a wide audience. Those movies were very profitable, but that doesn't necessarily set you up for the trajectory of the kind of movies that is the main business of Hollywood today.
HEADLEE: I'm just trying to understand why at this point - I mean we are in 2012. We're nearly in 2013, and the proportion of women and minorities in big - I mean these are basically executive level positions - lags far behind in Hollywood from the rest of corporate culture. I mean when you look at the rest of the corporate world - I'm not saying the corporate world is fixed. It's certainly not equal in this country, but Hollywood's worse.
HUDLIN: Well, you keep going, but why? Look, you know, if you're saying, is there sexism? Is there prejudice? Really, that's what we're talking about.
HUDLIN: Prejudice. And, you know, prejudice is a word that's kind of out of favor, but I really love the word because people aren't necessarily racist, you know, like I think that black people are beneath me or anything like that. Prejudice is a much more precise word - right - because prejudice means you have a bias and that bias may or may not be based on fact.
And Hollywood traditionally makes decisions based on historical models. So it's not necessarily looking forward. It's looking backwards. So you go, what's a movie that we've seen previous versions of it existing before, they had a huge return, and what were the elements in the package that made that movie work?
So I get that decision-making process - right - because it seems common sense, but the problem with it is we're making art, or we're attempting to, and we also have to anticipate audience needs, and just referring to our most recent election, the fact is who the audience is is changing and what they have an appetite for is changing. So using historical models works up to a point. At the same time, you know, people want something new. People want something different, and to really do something different you need different perspectives and different points of view. But that means increasing your risk ratio.
HEADLEE: And so we can expect change when? When do we start getting more equal?
HUDLIN: Systemic change?
HUDLIN: You know, the status quo is very formidable, as it always is, but if I believed that nothing would change, it would be a lie to the fact that I'm talking to you right here, because when I was a kid and I decided to be a filmmaker, there was absolutely no way for that to occur. So it would be dishonest for me to say now, well, this is it. It's never going to get better than this. That's just not true.
In the 20 years I've been in the movie business, things have changed. I mean, the movie that I'm producing right now, "Django," is unprecedented.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "DJANGO UNCHAINED")
JAMIE FOXX: (as Django) I recall the man who had me kill another man in front of his son and he didn't bat an eye. You remember that?
CHRISTOPH WALTZ: (as Schultz) Of course I remember.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (as Django) What you said was - was that this is my world, and in my world you got to get dirty.
HUDLIN: It's an unbelievable thing that it even exists. Every time I look at it, I keep going, I can't believe this movie got made. I can't believe that I'm involved in the making of the movie and that everyone is now looking at it like, oh, that's a surefire hit. I'm like, it's a black western, and yet everyone looks at it as one of the safest commercial bets of the year. That's an enormous change.
HEADLEE: OK. Hurray for Hollywood. That's Reginald Hudlin. He's a motion picture producer and director. He's also one of the few African-American voting members of the Academy Awards. He joined us today from our NPR bureau in Culver City, California.
Thanks so much.
HUDLIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.