Oscars Blind to Race
by Emma James on Friday, February 12th, 2016
We are in the middle of the whirlwind awards season, when four of the most notable award ceremonies honor actors, musicians, and behind-the-scenes workers as well. The Golden Globes aired January 10, the Screen Actors Guild awards aired January 30, the Grammys will air February 15, and the venerated Academy Awards, nicknamed the “Oscars,” will air February 28. The 6,000 member Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences chooses between Oscar nominees. As of February 2012, the members of the Academy were 94% white and 77% male.
Announced January 14, the nominations for the Oscars all had something in common: they were all white. A common misconception is that this lack of people of color is some new problem for the Oscars; however, 2016 marks the second year in which no black actors were nominated for an Oscar. People across the globe are criticizing the Academy for discrimination and lack of diversity.
Some attack the Academy for the absence of people of color; others defend the decision, saying that the choices were based on talent, not race. The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite went viral on Twitter.
Many figures in the film industry are participating in the conversation, including esteemed actors George Clooney, Lupita Nyong’o, and Viola Davis. Spike Lee, Will Smith and Michael Moore, among others, are actually boycotting the ceremony. Even President Obama spoke briefly on the controversy, saying “the industry should…look for talent, and provide opportunity to everybody” implying that he believes that the Academy did not provide a “fair shot” for all people.
The account of the online news channel AJ+ posted a tweet on February 5, reading “14 yrs after her win, Halle Berry is still the only woman of color to win the Oscar for best actress #OscarsSoWhite.” In fact, an award show called the Tree of Life Awards, also referred to as the “Black Oscars,” began in 1981 to recognize black actors in filmmakers. However the show ended in 2007 when the community thought that the playing field had finally been leveled enough; now, there is again talk of bringing back the award show.
The popular comedy show Saturday Night Live (SNL), which is known to satire current events, did a skit called “Screen Guild Awards” that magnifies the Oscars 2016 talk to a hilariously bitter level. The skit, which can be watched on YouTube, features white male actors receiving awards over their clearly more featured black counterparts in fake movies, which were actually direct parodies of Creed and Straight Outta Compton.
However, actress Helen Mirren is noted asserting that “it’s unfair to attack the Academy,” instead stating that the problem stems from the films themselves. She shares her perspective about why black actor Idris Elba, supporting actor in Beasts of No Nation, was not nominated despite his talented acting, claiming “he wasn’t [nominated] because not enough people saw or wanted to see a film about child soldiers.”
According to US magazine, “the Academy pledged to double its minority and female membership by 2020” in response to the controversy.
One may wonder whether host Chris Rock will address the issue at the ceremony. On February 5, Rock criticized Jennifer Lawrence on her comment about how actresses aren’t paid as much as actors, retorting “[Gabrielle Union, Nia Long, and Kerry Washington] would love to get to Jennifer Lawrence’s place, or just be treated with the same amount of respect.” In 88 years of Oscar’s history, only six black actresses have won awards.
Race continues to be a deciding factor in many aspects of our lives, not excluding the film industry. While this issue won’t be improved overnight, the #OscarsSoWhite controversy has shown the powerful effect of online discussion and of public figures taking a stance against injustice: two things which generate the awareness of the public. So even if you don’t usually watch award shows, the 2016 Oscars are sure to be much more than four hours of monotonous speeches. Tune in February 28 at 8:30pm (EST) to see what the Academy and host Chris Rock have to say (or not to say) about the #OscarsSoWhite controversy.
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