The nominees for the 88th Academy Awards were announced on Jan. 15 and while this is cause for excitement, there is even greater cause for disappointment because, like last year, not a single non-white actor or actress has been nominated in any acting category.
In anticipation of the upcoming awards show, which will be held on Feb. 28, Film Studies major Queenelle Gazmen has been looking forward to seeing which of her favorite films have made the Oscar cut.
“I’ve learned to accept that there is a lack of representation in both the Oscars and the entertainment industry in general,” Gazmen said. “So my disappointment was
Uproars began almost immediately, the well-known #OscarsSoWhite debate resurfaced and some members of Hollywood’s elite (including Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith and George Clooney) condemned the Academy and are planning to boycott.
But is the Academy really to blame? According to a report by UCLA’s Bunche Center for African American Studies, 89.5 percent of the lead actors in theatrical films were white just five years ago. So when people call out the Academy for not nominating any actors of color—they’re only doing the best they can with what they have, but that doesn’t make their
Professor Robert Cumbow, who teaches film at Seattle University, thinks that the blame belongs, in part, with other institutions and not just with the Academy.
“Studios and advertising have a lot to do with influencing the thinking of members,” Cumbow said. “So maybe who needs to be woken up is Hollywood in general—particularly the studios themselves.”
Cumbow also explained that prior to the availability of DVDs, members of the Academy were more or less forced to see these movies at screenings and that they are now more likely to skip certain films.
Cumbow noted the universal appeal of films such as “12 Years a Slave,” “Django Unchained” and “Selma.”
“We know that in years where there are so called ‘black-themed’ movies, we will see performances of merit nomination because the members saw those movies,” Cumbow said. “So films like ‘Straight Outta Compton’ and ‘Chiraq’ are, in contrast, films that have a narrower appeal; they are not the kinds of movies that a lot of non-diverse Academy members
will seek out.”
Last year, the International Business Times released an infographic that summed up the history of diversity in the Academy Awards. Sticking with acting, the results of the show have been appalling; 99 percent of all Best Actress Winners have been white with the exception of Halle Berry, who is the only black actress ever to have won the award. For Best Actor, 91 percent of the winners have been white. When Sidney Poitier won in best actor in a leading in 1964, it marked the first time a person of color ever won as Oscar—nearly forty years since the inaugural awards ceremony in 1929.
Associate Vice President for Student Development at Seattle U Alvin Sturdivant follows pop culture and the arts closely and feels that performances from Will Smith in “Concussion,” Idris Elba in “Beasts of No Nation” and Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson in “Creed” were all worthy of nominations. He also believes that the neglect of minority actors and actresses by the Academy is a long-standing, systemic issue.
“It seems, to some degree, as if we’re moving backwards. As far back as 10 years ago, we were beginning to see an influx of colored people being nominated in all categories,” Sturdivant said. “I think until Hollywood addresses the mixed messages it is sending around race, gender and sex, we’re going to continue to see these things happening where folks who are legitimately deserving won’t see nominations.”
The blame for these injustices is too far spread and deep-rooted for it to fall on one head alone. On Jan. 22, the Academy announced that they would be implementing new rules to ensure more diversity among the votership, by seeking out women and minority voters. For some, this is an adequate response to the issue, for others, it is too little too late.
It might take some time for real change to be seen, but for the time being — Hollywood is just as racist as it’s ever been.
Scott may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Scott Johnson is a senior Film Studies and Journalism double major. You can follow him on Twitter @scott7893 and find more of his reviews at RagingFilm.com