Started from the bottom?

Privilege should not be linked to success in Hollywood

Michael Colton, Entertainment Columnist

We all want to see our pop-culture idols as people who came up just as we did, but doing so is misguided and foolish. Rarely, if ever, are our favorite celebrities truly people who fully earned their success. The fact of the matter is that most of entertainment’s elite were born into positions of power, creating a skewed playing feel and general lack of diversity in the arts from high school to Hollywood.

The relationship between privilege and success makes for a distinct lack of diversity in pop-culture and a harder chance at success 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.

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–it is no coincidence that there are more undeserving white celebrities (see every Kylie Jenner for example) than those of any other race.

Being white, not only means a likely chance of having a financial advantage, but society has ensured that it also means a greater degree of respect and opportunity. Though many would prefer not to admit it, Justin Bieber being discovered singing outside of a theater had much more to do with him being a ‘put-together’ young white kid from a wealthy community than it did with his not-so-unique voice.

The issue of privilege and power stretches beyond race though, as wealth is the true factor in determining someone’s success. Though this may not be as obvious, it becomes clear when one looks into the family lives of famous celebrities. For example, Beyonce’s father was a very successful corporate salesman for Xerox before turning to managing his daughter’s emerging career–which only started after she was discovered singing at the wealthy charter school that she was sent to. Don’t get me wrong, Beyonce’s talent is undeniable, but her fame was indisputably guided by her father’s wealth and ability to retire early in order to promote her career.

The same holds true for–this one may hurt for some of you–Chance the Rapper. Though he is frequently praised as “one of us” by high school students from the Chicagoland area, Chance too had the benefit of a powerful parent in building his success. Chance’s father worked on Harold Washington’s administration, Obama’s campaign and is now a top advisor to Rahm Emanuel. While Chance has surely had to fight violence and racism in coming up as a young artist in Chicago, it is hard to hail him as a normal kid from the city when his father had a direct say in the schooling and conditions that Chance was faced with. Having such a powerful father undoubtedly aided in Chance’s rise to fame, as he was able to attend the prestigious Jones College Prep High School and book several shows within Chicago before becoming nationally famous.

Despite all of the different factors that can contribute to one’s ease on the path to stardom, one thing remains constant for all of the celebrities mentioned above: access to a wealthy, prestigious school. Regardless of one’s talent level, being able to perform with the best resources and best teaching is integral to one’s exposure and success as an artist, that is precisely what going to a wealthy school provides.

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, theatre 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.