Oscars so white
The 88th Academy Awards took place in Hollywood on Sunday, with much talk in the lead-up to the ceremony about whether Leonardo DiCaprio would finally win Best Actor. But the Oscars made the headlines not just to announce this year’s nominees, but for the lack of diversity, with renowned actors Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, and others, boycotting the event.
Dr Ken Fox, Principal Lecturer in Media, Art and Design at Canterbury Christ Church University, comments on the #Oscarsowhite campaign.
Now that the Academy Awards are over it is a good time to reflect; not on the winners and losers but more importantly this year on those who were not nominated.
The controversy surrounding the lack of diversity in Oscar nominees is one of the key reasons the Oscars are important this year. Not because of who won but because the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences members who vote for the Oscars revealed themselves to be completely out of touch with contemporary society. In 2014 the Los Angeles Times found that of those 6,200 Academy members able to vote for the Oscars 93% are white, 74% male and the average age of members is 63.
The #Oscarssowhite campaign shone the Spotlight (pun intended) on the institutionalised racism of Hollywood and the recognition that things will have to change. With everyone from Barack Obama to Mark Rylance (winner of the best supporting actor Oscar and a man of Kent) identifying the need for Academy members to reflect more effectively the diverse make-up of contemporary society we may see a much more diverse selection of nominees next year.
That’s not to argue that someone should be nominated because of the colour of their skin: awards for great acting, directing, editing, sound etc. should be colour blind. And this goes to the heart of the problem that focuses attention on the lack of opportunity in Hollywood for non-white producers, directors, production crew and actors. The recent report by the Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California’s (USC) Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism identified the scale of the problem which they described as “an epidemic of invisibility” in Hollywood for women, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and those from ethnic minority backgrounds. In 414 films and TV shows analysed for the study researchers found 87% of directors were white.
How many non-white directors have won Oscars for best director? You only need one hand to do the calculations. The same could be said for women directors. How many non-white actors have won the best Actor awards? Single digit figures again. What this points too is the absence of opportunity for non-white workers behind and in front of the camera. Until this problem is confronted the Oscars will continue to reflect a conservative, narrow-minded vision of entertainment excellence and lose their relevance for the diverse audiences who go to the movies.
Ken Fox is Principal Lecturer and Knowledge Exchange Co-ordinator in the Department of Media, Art and Design. Ken teaches modules on American Cinema in the Film, Radio and Television Programme and in the American Studies Programme.