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Are You Ready for Real Change?


Jessica SmithHilary Swank made news this week asking for more compelling roles and stories for women. A beloved American icon, Bill Cosby, is the talk of the nation with a myriad of alleged sexual assault accusations leveled against him. Even as an Oscar winner, Octavia Spencer had a tough time getting offers for roles that she deserved, simply because of her minority status. What do I take away from this? Mainly, I take away “Blah, blah, blah. What’s new?”

And I think it is horrific that I think this, not because these are real issues, rather the reason why these issues are still issues. I can only come up with one word and it is HYPOCRISY.

Yes, hypocrisy.

A Greek musicologist, Damon of Athens, is credited with saying, “Give me the songs of a nation and it does not matter who writes its laws.”

I firmly agree with this statement; who we are as a nation, as a people, as individuals, is largely influenced by what we view for entertainment. Therefore, those who bring us entertainment largely define our culture. And laws are changed and written after a culture has changed, not before. All of this means that our actors, writers, singers, directors, etc. wield immense power.

And they are certainly not shy about inserting themselves into political discussions. We want equal pay for women. We want men who commit sexual harassment and sexual assault held accountable for their actions. We want equality for all, no matter their race. And frontrunners in this industry step out in favor of those ideas on a regular basis.

Well, it’s time to, as the saying goes, put your money where your mouth is. If you think women should get equal pay, then you darn well better be prepared to pay Hilary Swank a salary equal to her male lead. If Hollywood can’t figure out how to do that one basic thing, then don’t tell the rest of the nation to do it. On the other hand, if Hollywood can take the lead, then maybe real change will come.

Additionally, if it’s true that minorities should get equal opportunities in the workplace and the rest of society (and duh, of course they should), then why are the leads all white and the minor and background roles relegated to “ethnically ambiguous?” I am not going to bother in this article praising the few who do take chances on true diversity casting. You are out there and I salute you. But the whopping majority (in 2014!!), still will not give a white lead a romantic counterpart that is of another race. We rarely see the minority as anything more than the funny neighbor, if at all. If we have a movie full of African-American leads, it’s called a black film instead of a film (that just happens to have black actors). If we have a movie full of women leads, it’s a Chick Flick, instead of a movie (that just happens to have women actors).

And if we are going to publicly shame and crucify a man for alleged sexual assault, then we better be prepared to give up the work created by a whole host of other men. Let me clarify that I am not in disagreement with certain repercussions to Bill Cosby’s alleged crimes, such as NBC canceling his future series. I do have a concern with giving up The Bill Cosby Show because let’s face it, there may not be a better sitcom out there in existence and what a shame to lose it. But if it happens, I think we understand that there are consequences to actions and Bill Cosby, if convicted, should have to face them.

However, we can’t, then, give a pass to others. Remember Mike Tyson, Kobe Bryant, John Travolta, Sean Penn, Al Gore, Bill Clinton, CeeLo Green, Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, Tupac Shakur. This list took me all of 30 seconds to Google. How many more are out there? In this list some are allegations, some are convictions, some were paid to go away. The most disturbing to me about this list is that in many instances, the women making the accusations were painted as “crazy,” often by other women.

Why do I doubt there will be real change? Because Hollywood picks and chooses who to hold accountable. Where is true justice in that? When men know they have no real consequences for their actions, sexual assaults will continue. When they know they can pay off a female accuser and/or simply label her as crazy. It will still go on.

However, if this industry can have the integrity to honorably support those of minority status and mete out justice equally, then we can have real change instead of just discussions about change. In the meantime, you and I will commit to creating beautiful content that raises the bar for how women and minorities are perceived and honored.

Jessica Leigh Smith

About Jessica Leigh Smith

Jessica Leigh Smith can currently be seen running around town in her yoga pants, toting her two little girls everywhere she goes. Being a mommy has played into Jessica’s latest projects, Mommy Parodies. The first is a parody of a song from the movie Frozen, which has reached almost 40,000 views (and climbing) on YouTube: Jessica’s most notable acting roles are co-starring roles on One Tree Hill and Drop Dead Diva. Coincidentally, Jessica was toting her daughters in those roles as well, since she was pregnant both times. In addition to acting, Jessica has co-produced an educational series for actors, called The Dinner Project, putting actors and casting directors face to face. Episodes can be found at For more about Jessica, the actress, please visit her website,, and follow her on Twitter, @JessiLeighSmith.