Success should be based on talent, not privilege

Michael Colton, Entertainment Columnist

Started from the bottom?

Hollywood loves an underdog story. So does the public. But what we consumers fail to realize is, that, as much as we may want it to be the case, very few of our pop culture icons have actually made it on their own in the industry; in entertainment, your chances of success skyrocket if you are born into a place of privilege.

The relationship between privilege and success makes for a distinct lack of diversity in pop-culture and an uneven playing field for those who are not born with similar privilege. This is painstakingly evident in the film and television industries, in which, according to PBS, 75% of actors are white. Further, an overwhelming majority of Hollywood directors are white as well.

This is no coincidence. The fact of the matter is that being white puts actors in an easier place to attain the best schooling, the most exposure and the most roles in their fields. The connection between wealth and race in the United States shows that white communities have a great deal more wealth than any other racial demographic in the country. This means that, statistically speaking, a young white actor is more likely to come from a wealthy family than a young Hispanic actor, or a young black actor. With the advantage of wealth, aspiring white actors are able to afford a plethora of things that the less privileged cannot, such as acting lessons, private drama schools and talent agents.

From there it can be easily seen why Hollywood is overwhelmingly white; it’s because people like Reese Witherspoon, whose parents are both successful doctors, were able to afford schooling and exposure, while an equally talented actor from a poor family did not receive that same treatment. With whiteness comes an easier chance at financial stability, and an easier shot at ‘making it’ in the industry.

While white privilege is an obvious indicator of an easier road to success, what is equally as powerful, and much less visible, is growing up with prosperous parents, regardless of race.

Reese Witherspoon may be both white and wealthy, but a countless number of other celebrities in other realms of entertainment receive a nearly equal opportunity due to their parents’ wealth, like Chance the Rapper, for example. Chance’s father worked on Harold Washington’s administration, Obama’s campaign and is a top adviser to Rahm Emanuel. While Chance has surely had a great degree of hardship in his life because of societal oppression towards people of color and a general negligence to communities of color, it is also true that, had his father not been such a prominent political figure within the city, it would have been much more difficult to navigate the entertainment scene of Chicago. No matter one’s degree of talent, it is undisputedly easier to be booked for concerts or score recording contracts when your father is an advisor to the most influential man in the city.

To fix the issue of success being predicated on inherent privilege and hereditary wealth, schools must reach out to all students to participate in whatever activities they may choose, and help them along the way to success. If it is left to the parents of a child to send them to performing arts school in order to make it, Hollywood will remain a concentration of rich white people. Free arts camps, theater departments with a wide variety of plays offered and proper funding for public school fine arts programs can help combat the issue of privilege. Success should be based on talent, not on a willingness to dish out cash for schooling and exposure.