By Ali Bush '19
This award season, actors, movie goers, and critics are again enraged at the Academy’s choice of giving 20 white actors the highest recognition for their work in cinema. For the second year in a row, not one actor of color has been nominated, meaning that the 40 actors the Academy nominated in the last two years have all been white. Hollywood giants such as Spike Lee and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, amongst others, are boycotting this year’s award ceremony due to the appalling lack of diversity in this year’s ceremony. Although one of the main causes of this problem lies in the make up of the Academy’s voters – 93 percent is white and 76 percent is male– the main reason for the lack of diversity in this year’s Oscar nominees lies in the racist nature of the movie-making industry itself.
The lack of nominees of color in this year’s Oscar nominees clearly exposes the deep-rooted, racist tendencies of the entire movie industry. Not only are actors of color given fewer opportunities in the film industry, but they are often given stereotypical roles envisioned by white writers in order to simply fulfill a kind of “diversity requirement.” Although these roles are important to recognize, representations of more complex and realistic characters are still necessary. The only films featuring black actors that the Academy seems to reward are those of historical significance in which black actors are portrayed in subservient roles, such as The Help (2011) and 12 Years A Slave (2013). These films are crucial in educating the masses about the struggle of the black experience, but there are many more stories that must be told that are not. Other films such as Creed, Tangerine, Concussion, and Straight Outta Compton that focus on issues such as transphobia, police brutality, and racism in America were denied any nominations. An anonymous Academy voter claimed that many voters on the Academy avoided even watching these films. Perhaps these films depict how racism is far too real and present. It is clear that Academy voters easily handed over that golden trophy to 12 Years A Slave, a film that depicts the atrocities of slavery, a historical institution that the Academy can decisively state is no longer an issue in the U.S., whereas more unforgiving films such as Chi-Raq and Straight Outta Compton depict pertinent problems, such as gang violence and police brutality, both of which arevery real issues that the Academy simply ignores. The Academy has no problem rewarding black actors to portray the lives of slaves, which is a very necessary narrative for the American public to understand, but the Academy is unable to reward more complex portals of characters of color.
Other critics argue that what this year’s nominees lack in racial diversity is made up for by other marginalized identities portrayed in this year’s films, such as Eddie Redmayne’s performance as a transgender woman in The Danish Girl, or Cate Blachett and Rooney Mara’s portrayals of a lesbian couple in Carol. But what the Academy neglects to understand is that although these films are no doubt hugely important in depicting the lives of these marginalized characters, they are still rewarding straight, white, cis actors by giving them a nomination. Although the Academy’s president has promised to “conduct a review of [the Academy’s] membership recruitment in order to bring about much-needed diversity in our 2016 class and beyond,” the lack of diversity in this year’s nominees is a mere scratch on the surface of racism in Hollywood. Director Spike Lee contests that “it’s easier to be the president of the United States as a black person than to be head of a studio, or be head of a network,” explaining that this lack of diversity stems from the few opportunities people of color have in the entertainment industry. Until all people of color feel represented in realistic ways in the movies they see, Hollywood is bound to remain the white institution it has always been.