Diversity: The Achilles's Heel Of Hollywood

The Gods of Hollywood. Are they Black? Or White?
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My friend is Greek. She is quite proud of her Greek heritage, and she often likes to remind me, whenever we discuss politics, culture, history, and philosophy, where the Western world received its values. She’s a historian herself, and her love for political discourse, reciting of Greek epics, and admiration of Greek artwork all make her…well, very Greek.

So then, imagine her shock when both of us decided to watch David Farr’s Troy: Fall of City (2018) on Netflix and she saw Zeus and Achilles being portrayed by black men.

Needlessly to say, there was a lot of eye-rolling and heavy sighs. 

British-Nigerian actor Hakeem Kae-Kazim plays Zeus, the King of Gods, while British-Ghanaian actor David Gyasi plays Achilles. While both of these actors are superb in their roles, my friend’s anger was directed at a simple fact: the distortion of history.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announced new standards to what would constitute a Best Film. These standards were set in place to help promote diversity, inclusion, and greater representation of the world. While admirable, many seemed to forget that whenever someone—or something—attempts to define “diversity” for others, this definition automatically becomes ethnocentric in nature. The reason is simple: not everyone in the world shares the same understanding, concept, or vision of what it means to be “diverse.”

The flaw that the Academy doesn’t realize is that having mere presence of physical, non-white bodies does not eliminate racism, and it does not properly promote diversity. Diversity comes in various forms that include ideology, values, and narratives; having bodies that are “persons of color” or “ethnic minorities” is just that: a mere presence. True diversity would be to showcase different narratives from all around the world whilst being preserved in their truest form as much as possible—not distilled and whitewashed in the name of “diversity.” That is, filmmakers should strive to promote stories that show vast multitudes of different thinking, ideologies, and customs instead of just whitewashing/blackwashing other narratives. After all, wouldn’t it be more “representative” and more “diverse” to show stories from other cultures than just to remake them in an image of Hollywood clichés? Also, let’s not forget about modern Greeks of today: surely someone who is Greek had to stop, frown, and then say to themselves: “Wait a minute. That’s not right. Zeus was never black. That’s not part of my heritage!”

Thus, my friend did not necessarily care about the fact that there were black actors on screen; she very much is in support of diversity in all forms. What she cared about most was the distortion of a particular history, one that is rich with culture, as such a tactic is the opposite of celebrating diversity: it is, in fact, destruction of diversity, and in case, the destruction of the Iliad.  

We should ask ourselves: does Hollywood have the ethical authority to announce which group deserves more “representation” than others? Does it have the right to decide, based on skin color, which cultural narrative is more significant? We also must remember that what might be “diverse” and “right” for some does not mean it is “diverse” and “right” for others. 

After all: Brad Pitt did a splendid job in Troy (2004) as Achilles. As a Greek, however, he did a very poor job. 

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