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Let's Talk About The Lack Of Diversity At The Oscars

by Pascale Day Published on 19 January 2016
Let's Talk About The Lack Of Diversity At The Oscars© Getty Images

The Oscar nominations were released last week and - surprise surprise - has been pulled up once again for its lack of diversity. It was only a year ago that the same shock and horror was shown when The Academy failed to nominate a single person of colour, and yet here we are, history repeating itself once again.

It seems whilst the rest of the world progresses in terms of accepting diversity, Hollywood stays still, stuck in a bygone era of whitewashing awards ceremonies. Thing is, it almost seemed as though we were moving forward - up until last year we had managed to avoid whitewashing the film industry awards, but 2015 was the first year since 1996 that not a single person of colour is nominated for an Academy award. That means the last time it was an entirely white event was the year Braveheart won Best Picture. For a clear idea of how diverse the Oscars have been throughout their history, check out this handy infographic:

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So, who's up for a boycott?

Few people have spoken out publicly against this year's Oscars, but not enough. People began tweeting under the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite on Twitter. Jada Pinkett Smith posted a video to her Facebook explaining why she will not be attending or watching the Oscars, and director Spike Lee has also called for a boycott of the ceremony, posting on his Instagram page yesterday: “We Cannot Support It And Mean No Disrespect To My Friends, Host Chris Rock and producer Reggie Hudlin, President Isaacs And The Academy. But, How Is It Possible For The 2nd Consecutive Year All 20 Contenders Under The Actor Category Are White?".

#OscarsSoWhite... Again. I Would Like To Thank President Cheryl Boone Isaacs And The Board Of Governors Of The Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts And Sciences For Awarding Me an Honorary Oscar This Past November. I Am Most Appreciative. However My Wife, Mrs. Tonya Lewis Lee And I Will Not Be Attending The Oscar Ceremony This Coming February. We Cannot Support It And Mean No Disrespect To My Friends, Host Chris Rock and Producer Reggie Hudlin, President Isaacs And The Academy. But, How Is It Possible For The 2nd Consecutive Year All 20 Contenders Under The Actor Category Are White? And Let's Not Even Get Into The Other Branches. 40 White Actors In 2 Years And No Flava At All. We Can't Act?! WTF!! It's No Coincidence I'm Writing This As We Celebrate The 30th Anniversary Of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's Birthday. Dr. King Said "There Comes A Time When One Must Take A Position That Is Neither Safe, Nor Politic, Nor Popular But He Must Take It Because Conscience Tells Him It's Right". For Too Many Years When The Oscars Nominations Are Revealed, My Office Phone Rings Off The Hook With The Media Asking Me My Opinion About The Lack Of African-Americans And This Year Was No Different. For Once, (Maybe) I Would Like The Media To Ask All The White Nominees And Studio Heads How They Feel About Another All White Ballot. If Someone Has Addressed This And I Missed It Then I Stand Mistaken. As I See It, The Academy Awards Is Not Where The "Real" Battle Is. It's In The Executive Office Of The Hollywood Studios And TV And Cable Networks. This Is Where The Gate Keepers Decide What Gets Made And What Gets Jettisoned To "Turnaround" Or Scrap Heap. This Is What's Important. The Gate Keepers. Those With "The Green Light" Vote. As The Great Actor Leslie Odom Jr. Sings And Dances In The Game Changing Broadway Musical HAMILTON, "I WANNA BE IN THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENS". People, The Truth Is We Ain't In Those Rooms And Until Minorities Are, The Oscar Nominees Will Remain Lilly White. (Cont'd)

A photo posted by Spike Lee (@officialspikelee) on Jan 18, 2016 at 5:03am PST

​The Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who herself is a woman of colour, has today expressed how "heartbroken and frustrated" she is over the lack of diversity at this year's Oscars. Her statement read:

“I’d like to acknowledge the wonderful work of this year’s nominees. While we celebrate their extraordinary achievements, I am both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion. This is a difficult but important conversation, and it’s time for big changes. The Academy is taking dramatic steps to alter the makeup of our membership. In the coming days and weeks we will conduct a review of our membership recruitment in order to bring about much-needed diversity in our 2016 class and beyond.

“As many of you know, we have implemented changes to diversify our membership in the last four years. But the change is not coming as fast as we would like. We need to do more, and better and more quickly. This isn’t unprecedented for the Academy. In the ‘60s and ‘70s it was about recruiting younger members to stay vital and relevant. In 2016, the mandate is inclusion in all of its facets: gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation. We recognise the very real concerns of our community, and I so appreciate all of you who have reached out to me in our effort to move forward together.”

Diversifying the Oscars: The candidates

​So, who were the potential candidates that could have diversified the Oscars this year? Well there's quite a few that could have been considered, starting with Idris Elba. His new movie, Beasts of No Nation, is a Netflix Original film and sees him as a terrifying Commandant in charge of a child army in West Africa. It has so far earned Elba a BAFTA nomination and Golden Globe nomination, and it was thought he would be a strong contender for the Best Supporting Actor role for the Academy award, but he was snubbed.

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Then, of course, there is Michael B. Jordan, who stars opposite Sylvester Stallone in the new film from the Rocky canon, Creed. Stallone is nominated for Best Supporting Actor, which shows a liking for the film by the Academy, but there has been no mention of Jordan.

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Will Smith's name has also been mentioned for his film Concussion, in which he plays forensic pathologist Dr Bennet Omulu who fought the efforts of the NFL to suppress his research on brain injuries sustained by American football players. Smith was nominated for a Golden Globe for in the Best Actor category, and won awards at the Hollywood Film Awards and African-American Film Critics Association Awards for the same category, but his biopic was ignored by the Academy.

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Films ignored by the Academy also include the NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton, and Tangerine, which famously started the first-ever Oscar campaign for its two transgender stars Kitana Kiki Rodriguez (leading actress), and Mya Taylor (supporting actress). The film garnered attention for being shot entirely on an iPhone 5 and for its use of transgender actresses. Non-transgender actors and actresses have often been recognised by the Oscars, such as Felicity Huffman for Transamerica and, of course, Eddie Redmayne has been nominated this year for his role as transgender pioneer Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl. However, Rodriguez and Taylor, both of whom are transgender and women of colour, have not been acknowledged.

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What can be done about this?

So, is this a problem with The Oscars? Well, LA Times readers think it's more a problem with the stories Hollywood choose to tell rather than the Academy who praise it. One letter from an Alex Downs in Long Beach says:

"To the editor: The Oscar whiteout isn't an Oscar problem. It's a movie studio boardroom, development and green-lit production problem.Were there amazing performances in films by African Americans that were snubbed? I can't remember any, which tells me these vital stories (like the film “Tangerine”) are not being made inside the studio system. The problem is not with Oscar."​

There is an enormous sense that this lack of diversity in Hollywood is a set of dominos that needs to be set in motion. In order to end this dominance of white men in Hollywood, we need to see more people of different ethnicities playing leading rolls. If Hollywood mirrored the society we actually live in, we'd see not only more ethnicities, but more people with disabilities, more older women, more of the LGBT community in the film industry. It's the Hollywood studios that can hit that first domino - they must start with the option to make more films that tell the stories of people of colour, and that showcase the talents of actors, directors, screenwriters from ethnic and cultural minorities. As Jada Pinkett Smith says in her Facebook video: "Maybe it is time to pull back our resources and we put them back into our communities, into our programmes, and we make programmes for ourselves that acknowledge us in ways we see fit, that are just as good as the so-called mainstream ones."

What do you think of the Oscar nominations this year? Tweet us: @sofeminineUK

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