The Annual Oscars Diversity Gut Check: Yup, Still A Problem

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.

Ryan Coogler, Director, Not nominated for Creed

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.

Michael B. Jordan, Actor, Also not nominated for Creed

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.

Idris Elba, Actor, Not nominated for Beasts of No Nation

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.

Everyone keeps talking about Room star Jacob Tremblay. Why doesn’t anyone ever mention Beasts of No Nation’s Abraham Attah?

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.

3 thoughts on “The Annual Oscars Diversity Gut Check: Yup, Still A Problem

  1. Like a lot of people who engage in racist activity they seem to have forgotten that words don’t mean s***, and that it’s their actions that will prove how “not racist” they actually are.
    Not being a racist is like being beautiful or intelligent. It’s not a quality you need to declare if you actually possess it.

  2. They may not want to believe it, but these people are arbiters of our culture. The real pity is that they don’t take the responsibility of this role seriously and see as many of the offerings as possible. Critics and festivals end up giving us a pretty good slate of films throughout the year, and since it is spread out and relatively well prioritized it shouldn’t be that hard to keep up. And they end up being pretty diverse. That they don’t see them despite the buzz is really disappointing. Whatever happened to Me and Earl and the Dying Girl or Dope or Tangerine or The Assassin or or or… We come up with a huge list of snubs each year because some of us pay attention. That voters can give excuses like Miller’s is an outrage.

  3. I agree that Creed and Beast should have been nominated in the main categories. In the case of Beast of No Nation, I was preparing for the snub because it limited release and the whole Netflix thing, which I can imagine all those old people didn’t give it a chance, even though it was supported specifically for Idris’s performance. I hope that AMPAS realize soon the masterpiece that Beast is, and how they really screwed up, just like they did last year with Selma. However, in the case of Creed snub, I blame WB because they prefered campaign Black Mass and In The Heart of Sea, which INMHO were bad and they realized really late, how great it was Creed. Also I think Ryan and MBJ were snubbed for the second time because the work they made in Fruitvale Station and Creed were brilliant and I can’t wait how this partnership will give us many good films in the future.
    Finally, also I blame the studios for all the #OscarSoWhite, because they’re the first step to make the decisions about expand and produce films that integrates no just black actors, also actors Latinos, Asians, among others. The #OscarSoWhite is the main consequence of this decisions made by the Studios.

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