An article is running on The Hollywood Reporter’s website today, with comments from members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, aka, the people who hand out Oscars. You can read the full article here, but the gist is that many members of the Academy are upset at being called racists because once again—and despite having a lot of actual, solid options this year—the Oscar nominations are a virtual white out. Some films made by people of color, like Creed and Straight Outta Compton, only got nominations for the white people involved (Sylvester Stallone and the all-white screenwriting team, respectively). Director Alejandro González Iñárritu is the lone non-white filmmaker nominated, and all twenty acting nominees are white. #OscarsSoWhite is trending once again.
Academy members come to their own defense, saying they can’t possibly have a race/diversity problem because hey, they voted for some black people who just, aw shucks, didn’t end up getting nominated. Actress Penelope Ann Miller says that probably not enough people saw Beasts of No Nation, which is why it didn’t get nominated. That is EXACTLY the problem. The overwhelmingly white (old, male) Academy, as a group, doesn’t pay attention to the stories about people of color, women, or the LGBTQ community. They just don’t care about those stories as much as the ones that reflect themselves. Does this mean Penelope Ann Miller is a racist? No. But it does mean she belongs to a body of people—a collective—that has a race problem.
How to fix it, though? I don’t think anyone actually wants forced inclusion, such as mandating that a specific percentage of nominations go to minority/female nominees. And it’s true that this problem goes far beyond the Academy—a big part of this loops back to the problem of there simply not being enough films made by minority/female filmmakers. If there were more inclusive films each year, the odds go up of greater diversity among the nominees.
So this is a monster we have to fight at both ends—we need more inclusion on the studio/producing side, and more on the Academy side, too. The most popular solution seems to be revising Academy membership by moving those members who haven’t actually worked in the industry in at least ten years to non-voting status. But there’s no way that won’t end up targeting the retiree demographic, which could rightfully be called ageist.
There’s not an easy answer here. The Academy has been making a huge diversity push over the last several years, but it’s only increased diversity within their ranks—over 6,000 members strong—by a few dozen people. And too many branches of the Academy look at the lone woman or one black guy on their roster and say, “See, we have diversity,” and call it a day. We’re not racist, they insist, but they have a race problem. (And a woman problem.) So something has to be done. But what? Well, maybe we can start with the members of the Academy themselves. Maybe instead of yelling about how you’re not racist—even though there is demonstrably a problem with your group—try LISTENING. Try listening to the people who say they are being excluded. Try listening to anyone proposing a solution. Try listening to the world outside who is telling you that you are not in step with the reality of life in 2016. And then maybe try doing something about it.