Last week saw the unhappy reprise of #OscarSoWhite, a Twitter hashtag that’s becoming something of an annual tradition skewering the lack of diversity in nominations for the Academy Awards. Many fans and critics are frustrated — to say the least — that all of this year’s nominees in acting categories are white, citing Michael B. Jordan’s performance in Creed as one of a handful of expected shoe-ins for recognition.
Now, thousands are pledging to boycott watching the awards ceremony on television, and Jada Pinkett-Smith and Spike Lee have publicly stated that they will not attend.
We’ve rounded up some of the most thoughtful responses to #OscarsSoWhite, shedding light on the history of race in Hollywood, how Oscars voting actually works, and how the Academy could respond to the backlash.
Eliza Berman of Time says actors of color seem to be receiving deserved recognition from everywhere but the Academy:
“If this year’s field feels like déjà vu all over again, that’s because there’s virtually no improvement to speak of. The lack of nods to actors of color — and stories about people of color — comes despite Golden Globe nominations for Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation) and Will Smith (Concussion); despite the critical success of Beasts of No Nation, Straight Outta Compton and Creed, not to mention widespread accolades calling the latter’s director, Ryan Coogler, one of the most promising new talents in the industry.”
Todd VanDerWerff at Vox delves into the context of diversity within the movie industry:
“Diversity, in short, isn’t about simply including as many nonwhite men as possible. It’s about acknowledging that white men don’t have a lock on good stories, and letting others’ stories be told as well as possible. The Oscars improve at this conversation in fits and starts with every year. This year was much better in terms of recognizing films about women than the past several years have been, for instance. But the awards still have a long way to go. And as the film industry’s most prestigious prize, simply bestowing their stamp upon a film automatically makes it more viable.”
Filmmaker Spike Lee shared his views on the roots of the issue, as reported by Brandon Griggs of CNN:
“Lee said the ‘real’ battle’ over racism in Hollywood is not with the Academy Awards but in ‘the executive offices of the Hollywood studios and TV and cable networks,’ where gatekeepers decide which projects get made and which don’t.”
“‘People, the truth is we ain’t in those rooms, and until minorities are, the Oscar nominees will remain lily white,’ he wrote [on his Instagram].”
The Academy did, in fact, try to broaden its voting membership in 2015. Rebecca Keegan and Steven Zeitchik of the Los Angeles Times write about the new changes that took place within the Academy. Not only did the Academy invite over 300 new members, but they also launched A2020, a new initiative designed to promote inclusion within the organization. However, Steve Pond at The Wrap questions the feasibility of the changes:
“[It] raises the question of whether an organization the size of the Academy can be changed significantly just through an influx of new members. Many AMPAS-watchers have suggested that any real Academy makeover would have to also include purging the voting rolls of older members who have not worked in the movie industry in years or even decades.That, however, would be a huge step that would likely anger an enormous number of members, and one that [Academy president Cheryl Boone] Isaacs’ statement does not address.”
For pessimists, a five-year plan is too slow. But the harsh reality is that the film industry works at a glacial pace, locking in stars, writers and directors several years in advance. So even though studios and agencies may say they want immediate change, it’s a question-mark how realistic that is; an overhaul was not evident in this year’s nominations, and it may not be apparent next year either.
This is an issue Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who is African-American, expressed in a statement released on Twitter on Sunday, saying she is “heartbroken and frustrated by the lack of inclusion”:
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 recognize 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.
While criticism of Isaacs and the Academy abounds, David Oyelowo, who played Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, addressed this issue in a gala honoring Isaacs, according to Refinery29 and The Hollywood Reporter:
“Oyelowo said: ‘This institution doesn’t reflect its president and it doesn’t reflect this room. I am an Academy member and it doesn’t reflect me, and it doesn’t reflect this nation.’ Still, he offered his ‘support’ for Isaacs. ‘The Academy is an institution in which they all say radical and timely change cannot happen quickly,’ Oyelowo said, per THR. ‘It better happen quickly. The law of this country can change in a matter of months. It better come on. The Oscars is on February 28. Cheryl needs us to pray that by that date, change is going to come. We need to pray for Cheryl, we need to support Cheryl, we need to love Cheryl. We cannot afford to get bitter, we cannot afford to get negative. But we must make our voice heard.'”