The celebration of diversity in Hollywood is all well and good, but a diversifying narrative has long been missing from the mix. Indeed, as the rest of the world celebrates varied stories, Tinseltown remains an insular industry.

Young Turks look at an advertisement for
Young Turks look at an advertisement for "Conquest 1453" displayed outside a cinema in Ankara, Turkey, Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012. (TRTWorld)

Another awards season is upon Hollywood and the legacy of the #OscarsSoWhite movement is still being felt.

Four years after the movement was created to highlight the lack of respect and rewards Hollywood shows artists of colour, the movement and the hashtag are still trending.

In those four years, there has been some progress. Moonlight, a coming-of-age drama directed by Barry Jenkins and starring an all-black cast, won Best Picture two years ago and earned Mahershala Ali a Best Supporting Actor, the first Muslim to get the award. 

And this year, there was something of a breakthrough when Rami Malek became the first actor of Middle Eastern origin to take the Best Actor award.

Yet structurally, little has changed. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the body of 6,000 professionals who choose the Oscars, is still secretive, made up predominantly of older men who are more than 90 percent white.

And while this high-profile attempt to celebrate diverse acting and storytelling talent in Hollywood is positive, it would be far better to celebrate diverse stories. The change Hollywood (and the US) really needs is not merely to put actors of colour on the big screen, but shine a light on stories from across the globe. In this, Turkish storytelling is particularly illustrative, and has proved it can cross borders and language barriers.

Hollywood's achilles heel is that it only tells stories from its own perspective while somehow aspiring to global relevance. Hollywood's stories are all about the people in Hollywood, beauty and violence, the immediacy of the moment or the romanticisation of the past.

This inward-looking tendency – call it cultural chauvinism – is assisted by US culture itself. The sheer size of the US film and TV market means that producers very rarely need to step outside their Los Angeles or New York bubbles to tell stories.

And the lack of interest in other cultures means that even cultures within the US are underserved by stories. The cultural life of small-town America, a life that tens of millions of people lead, is only portrayed in Hollywood, either as a romanticised idyll or a conservative backwater from which the hero or heroine cannot wait to escape.

Even events that have an enormous impact on the US itself, for example, the forces that have pushed so many thousands to join dangerous ‘caravans’ north from Latin America, barely warrant any cinematic examination.

Rarely are stories from outside the American bubble told. When they are, as with Capernaum, a gritty Lebanese drama that was nominated for this year's Best Foreign Language Film, they are relegated to the ‘foreign language’ category.

Or, as with Green Book, the story of a black concert pianist and his racist white driver that won this year's Best Picture, they are told from a particularly American, even white American, perspective.

But there are stories from across the world that could connect with American audiences, if Americans only had the chance to experience them. If there is one country whose storytelling has proved it can cross borders and language barriers, it is Turkey's.

Turkish TV, by several calculations, is the second-most exported television in the world. 

Dramas and soap operas are watched across the Middle East, eastern Europe and Asia. Outside of Hollywood and Bollywood, there is no other television industry with that reach.

Turkish TV's ‘breakout role’, as it were, was Magnificent Century, which was based on the life of the Ottoman Sultan, Suleyman the Magnificent.

The long-running drama, which premiered on domestic television in 2011, went on to be exported not merely to countries with an understanding of Turkish culture, such as the Balkans and Central Asia, but truly globally, premiering in South America, Japan and eastern European countries.

It proved that Turkish drama, and more broadly foreign TV, can travel.

Audiences happily watched hours of subtitled or dubbed television (Magnificent Century ran for around 250 hours across four seasons). Countries across the globe connected on a human level with a history that was not theirs. The idea that television viewers are only interested in stories to which they can personally relate is foolish: viewers can empathise with characters from different social backgrounds, different cultural backgrounds and even, as anyone who has ever watched Avatar can testify, with different species.

What made Magnificent Century so appealing to countries as far apart as Russia and Argentina? Partly, of course, it was the writing and the high production values. But it was also something else: there is a distinct cultural flavour to Turkish soaps which, in common with Arabic soap operas, tend to focus on timeless themes of romance, betrayal and family relationships. Those themes are very appealing to societies where faith and family still play a crucial, public societal role.

But it was also the appeal of seeing an alternative history played out on television. American film and TV tell America’s version of history; in Magnificent Century, an alternative history of an Islamic empire was told, one that was appealing to those countries that still carry the legacy of those times, for example in eastern Europe, and also to audiences who thirst for alternative narratives.

What Magnificent Century did not do – and what Turkish television will need to do to truly become a global force to rival Hollywood – is crack the markets of western Europe and the US. 

‘Ottomania’, as the wave of interest in the fashions, personalities and life of the Turkish past has been dubbed, has not yet crashed on the shores of the West.

In part, that could be due to the topic; there are newer Turkish dramas that are less focused on the particular history of the Turkish region, such as the telenovela Endless Love (shown on Turkish TV as Kara Sevda), which became the first Turkish TV series to win an Emmy award two years ago.

But it is also the case that the appetite for the stories of other cultures is limited. German television takes an interest in Turkish affairs because of the diaspora and features German actors of Turkish descent, but has not broadcast Turkish drama in any quantity. Other European countries, such the UK, watch the output of other countries – the Brits are famously obsessed with ‘Nordic noir’ crime series from Scandinavian countries – but on the whole prefer to look west to the US.

The brief infatuation with highlighting the contributions of artists of colour in Hollywood will, sadly, most likely pass. Hollywood remains an insular industry. But as Turkish television has shown, there is a widespread appetite for television and film that deals with human themes, across a diverse cultural background.

It is high time for Americans and western Europeans to realise what hundreds of millions of viewers across the world have realised: drama doesn't only have to come from the West Coast. The problem with the Oscars is not only that they are #SoWhite, it is that they are #SoAmerican.

Source: TRT World