Hollywood, Oscar Issues More Than Black and White

oscarThe film industry has never been a microcosm of American society, but more than ever before its failings at representing society are drawing ire. The big issues bandied about this past year touched on sexism in hiring, pay inequality and now the pale complexions of this year’s acting nominees for Oscars. But those proposing to boycott the Academy Awards on Feb. 28 because of the nominations’ dearth of diversity are missing the point that the issues of representative in entertainment created by Hollywood are about more than black or white skins and Oscars.

A lot has been made of the fact that for two years in a row, no black has been nominated for any of the four acting awards. There is no hue and cry, however, that no Latino or Asian person has either. The key issue is how representative the images presented in movies are of the U.S. populace.

One nominee, Charlotte Rampling, conveyed an outlier opinion, “We can never know whether it’s truly the case, but maybe the black actors didn’t deserve to make it to the final list.” The European actress probably has not seen Concussion or other films with outstanding performances by a black actor or actress.

Diversity seems to be more of any issue on the big screen. HBO and other networks long ago made television more of a melting pot that truly demonstrates that people will watch shows featuring people who do not look like them. But, the film industry is big business and the big bucks make studios more hesitant to gamble.

Director Spike Lee questioned, “How is it possible for the second consecutive year all 20 contenders under the acting category are white? And let’s not even get into the other branches. Forty white actors in two years and no flava at all. We can’t act?! WTF!!”

“The nominations reflect the Academy. The Academy reflects the industry [Hollywood] and then the industry reflects America,” commented Will Smith, one major star who is boycotting the ceremony this year.

Just two years ago, several blacks were nominated throughout the awards season and particularly the Academy Awards. Lupita Nyong’o won an Oscar for 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen was nominated for directing it and Chiwetel Ejiofor was for his performance. In addition, Barkhad Abdi received a nomination for Captain Phillips.

Was that an anomaly? No. Smith recently pointed out that he lost both times he had been nominated for an Oscar (for Ali in 2001 and The Pursuit of Happyness in 2006). He lost to other black actors: Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker.

After the lack of diversity in the nominations last year, the Academy – whose president is a black woman – made some changes and invited 300 new members. But, the criticism this year led to the announcement of more changes. The Motion Picture Academy is promising to double its amount of women and minorities members by 2020.

But, is the Academy really the problem or the industry itself? As Viola Davis, a two-time Oscar nominee (The Help in 2011 and Doubt in 2008), noted, “The problem is not with the Oscars. The problem is with the Hollywood movie-making system.” She questioned the number of films featuring a black cast that are made annually and how many producers think out of the box (or are colorblind) when casting. She added, “You can change the Academy, but if there are no black films being produced, what is there to vote for?”

Where is the criticism from other minorities? How many Hispanics or Asians have been nominated? Boycotting the Oscars could be perceived as insulting to those who were nominated. The lack of diversity in Oscar honors needs changing, but it is important to remember that the issue of Hollywood casting and representation is more than a black and white topic.

Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss

Sources:
Hollywood Reporter: Academy Unveils Dramatic Changes to Promote Diversity
Los Angeles Times: #OscarsSoWhite creator on Oscar noms: ‘Don’t tell me that people of color, women cannot fill seats’
PerezHilton: Oscar Nominee Mark Ruffalo Makes A Difficult Decision About Attending Amid Diversity Controversy! See What He Chose!
Perez Hilton: Viola Davis Won’t Be At The Oscars — But Is She Boycotting?! Find Out What She Says The Real Issue Is!
ABC News: Will Smith Joins Wife in Not Attending the Oscars
Entertainment Weekly: Charlotte Rampling says call for Oscars diversity is ‘racist against whites’

Photo courtesy of Prayitno’s Flickr page – Creative Commons license

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