Surprise - it’s beauty based.
Diversity in Hollywood has been placed under a particularly harsh spotlight over the past 12 months. Between the #MeToo movement and a wave of high-profile pushes for racial and gender equality in the film industry, the entertainment world has undergone visceral change. The problems, of course, are far from being resolved permanently. But when an actress can sit in an interview and openly decry the amount the lack of diversity among the crew producing the segment – and rightfully receive widespread applause – it’s a noticeable shift.
But there’s another barrier preventing the faces we see in films from reflecting the world around us, a top director has declared. And it’s beauty that’s the beast here.
“Looks are more taboo than gender or race,” said Susanne Bier, the Danish director behind 2016’s award-winning BBC One thriller The Night Manager, in an interview to promote her new film, Bird Box.
“If I suggest actors or actresses with unusual looks, I have a much harder time getting them through than anyone else,” she added.
Beauty standards in Hollywood are famously exacting, and as cosmetic technology has become more advanced, they’ve only become more rigorous. So engrained is the idea of ‘perfection’ in the films and television we watch that objectively conventionally beautiful individuals – such as Meghan Markle and Jessica Chastain– are regularly told they are not ‘pretty enough’ to succeed in the industry.
And Bier – whose work has earned her just one letter short of an EGOT – says the coded way these requirements are expressed makes it a struggle to call them out.
“It’s difficult to talk about because you don’t get a straight answer,” she noted. “You’re not going to get a studio head that says ‘We don’t think this person is beautiful enough’. You get all sorts of strange answers. But that is the reason. There’s no doubt that that is the one taboo which is very hard to overcome.”
And part of the problem may lie with us. Bier believes that audience demand to see beautiful, shiny people on screen is creating a Catch-22 problem whereby studios are acquiescing to what they believe are consumer demands, and only casting traditionally attractive actors. But the lack of beauty diversity means that audiences don’t have a choice – and can’t demonstrate their preference for anything else.
We’ve seen similar situations before. Previously, a dearth of female-fronted films was excused because it was believed audiences wouldn’t support the ventures. But when Hollywood began taking a ‘chance’ on those projects, they quickly outperformed male counterparts at the box office.
Bier predicts that it’s the new wave of projects that place women front-and-centre that will be responsible for a change in attitudes to beauty – as well as bringing female characters with more depth to our screens.
“We are going to see a more complex description of humanity with more female directors,” she added.
“Female characters have been for too long a sort of love interest, a function of a main male character, whether a mother, a daughter, a girlfriend. There’s no doubt that male characters are way more nuanced and complex than female characters.”
“[Change] isn’t just [needed] from a feminist, political point of view. It’s purely from an artistic point of view. It’s just plain boring that women are not allowed to be more exciting [on screen]. They can be less likable, as long as they’re more interesting.”
Bring it on.