Are the #OscarsSoWhite?

Are the #OscarsSoWhite?

The noticeable absence of black nominations for the main prizes of the night, best actor, best actress, best supporting actor and best supporting actress has triggered a substantial amount of speculation over the lack of diversity within the industry.

The recent debate associated with the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag has divided opinion. The backlash from the announcement of the 2016 Oscar nominees led to director Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith declaring a boycott of the ceremony in hope of raising awareness about the lack of diversity within the awards. Some, the larger part of people I have spoken to, maintain that there has been little recognition of black and ethnic minority actors this year at the Oscars simply due to the absence of black talent amongst the films released in this past year or that there is a lack of roles for black or ethnic people. And yes, perhaps all the nominees white or not, deserve to be nominated and the Oscars do in fact display equality and diversity of different cultures. However, the noticeable absence of black nominations for the main prizes of the night, best actor, best actress, best supporting actor and best supporting actress has triggered a substantial amount of speculation over the lack of diversity within the industry.


Photo by lincolnblues, licensed under CC 2.0

Those that were most noticeably missing from the predominantly white nominations this year were Idris Elba for his part in “Beasts of No Nation”, Star War’s John Boyega, Will Smith for “Concussion” and Michael B. Jordan for “Creed”. Critically acclaimed “Straight Outta Compton” saw a large cast of black actors yet the film’s only nomination went to Jon Herman and Andrea Berloff, its two white screenwriters. Those that were nominated are indeed at the top of their game but how can there be such little recognition for minorities in an industry that reaches all parts of the globe? Is it that their performances were not worthy of a nomination or has it to do with institutional factors within the industry that mean that black and ethnic minority actors are systemically not recognised?

Shockingly, according to a Los Angeles Times survey [1], the 6,028 Academy Award voters which determine the winners are 94% white, 77% men, 2% black and 2% Latino. The implications of these overwhelmingly white demographics offer a probable reason for the lack of diversity among the nominations but don’t necessarily account for the lack of black representation within the film industry itself. The 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report claims that minorities account for over 50% of US frequent movie goers, nevertheless minority representation in films has dropped in recent years [2]. 2013 saw what the New York Times declared as the “breakout year for Black film” when films like “12 years a slave” and “The Butler” among others were recognised. Since then there has been a dip in black and minority representation and therefore recognition within the industry. The success of “Straight Outta Compton” in the box office which earned $56.1 million on its opening weekend highlights the potential success for a film containing minority representation yet also draws attention to the lack of recognition films of that genre have received this year.

Some say that there is simply not enough black or ethnic acting talent or that there is a shortage of storylines and roles for black people. John Oliver asks why whitewashing is still a thing, and points out that even when there are ethnic minority roles, white actors still play them [3]. Examples could include Jake Gyllenhaal being cast as the Prince of Persia, a Scottish Gerard Butler playing an Egyptian in “Gods of Egypt” or a non Puerto Rican Natalie Wood playing Maria in “West Side Story.” These examples may not be enough to show the severe disparity of roles in Hollywood but they do highlight the absence of ethnic minorities even in films made about ethnic roles.

After having a series of interesting, engaging debates with a range of different people, I decided that instead of blaming the Oscars for their lack of diversity, we must look deeper and look at the inequality issues inside the industry itself. In order for there to be more films made which incorporate stories involving other minorities, there needs to be a representation of ethnic minority producers throughout Hollywood. Perhaps that would trigger a wave of new films being funded that would show diversity in the industry instead of having films with predominantly white people everywhere you look.

By promoting the campaigns like #OscarsSoWhite and other campaigns such as Black Lives Matters awareness can be raised. There needs to be institutional reform that would see a fairer, more diverse industry, which would recognise, not alienate, talent from all backgrounds. In order for there to be more recognition, more ethnicities must be represented within the Academy Awards voting system and within the roots of Hollywood itself. If more films were made that were to mirror the increasing cultural diversity in our society today, there might not be an overwhelmingly predictable outcome at the Oscars each year.






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