Opinion: Oscar Diversity

The recent announcements regarding the boycotting of the Oscars by black actors such as Will Smith and black directors such as Spike Lee, has created an important discussion, yet one that, in my opinion, has been largely blown out of proportion. This controversy revolves around the fact that no black actors have been nominated for an Academy award for the second year in a row.

You can look at this issue in two ways, and both have some sense of significance and importance. Firstly, such a boycott is highly symbolic of the racial struggle that is not only present within America but is something that continues to be prominent within Hollywood. As the film industry continues to be of great relevance not only to pop culture but in reflecting society, it is easy to understand the backlash to a lack of black executives working within the industry. The reality is that no major film studio is led by a black person, and this is incredibly troubling when such studios try to create films that reflect the nature and climate of America’s response to people of color. It is true that one way of combating this is by hiring black directors, and many of these films have gone on to be very successful, not only cinematically but as a statement of cultural importance, however in order for these films to first get off the ground is for the studio executives to feel a need for such a film, to realise its promise. I am not attacking the studios, nor am I saying that the people in charge don’t care about the state of ‘black films’ (a term coined by the media for a film consisting of a mostly black cast and representing black ideals), but that the honest truth is, that in order for the film industry to have more diversity both on screen, as well as narrative wise, Hollywood needs to see a change in the people who have all the power. Such an ideal is interesting, as one may argue that it is the audience that has all the power and this is very true. Over the last five years particularly ‘black films’ have become more and more popular, and are now regular viewing. Linking back to the Oscars, the problem with a lack of nominees does not come soley due to the Academy being too ‘old school’ or racist, it comes from an industry that has not yet fully been allowed to evolve, not yet becoming diverse as it should. Instead of boycotting the Oscars, why are these people not campaigning harder to increase the audience for black films. Show the executives that cinema is supposed to represent all ethnicities. It is this that will lead to change, as it really is profit that drives a lot of decisions. Maybe when Hollywood, in general, becomes more reflective of modern times, the people celebrating the industry will have a chance to as well.

So this first perspective directly highlights the overt lack of diversity within the film industry. But one may argue that while the amount of black films getting made is too low, and black actors are often forced to play stereotypical characters or move to TV where diversity is definitely felt, black films are getting made yet they are not getting recognised appropriately. This is where I have a massive problem. In my opinion, while the Academy is out of touch in many ways, as I explored in my recent article discussing the Legitimacy of the Academy Awards, we cannot soley blame the Academy for being representative of racist ideals, because as I will explain, a lack of diversity is current throughout the entire award season. So why boycott only one event, if every other awards ceremony has a similar problem? Okay yes, other ceremonies may have had one or two black nominees, but you cannot make such a definitive statement as saying the Academy failed to recognise such actors because of their own personal beliefs. Every year actors get nominated at one event, but fail to get nominations at another. The problem here is not about the Academy failing to recoginse an actor that may have had one nomination at some obscure award show, but a lack of viable black actors, all linking back to the lack of diversity within the industry itself.

The point that people are boycotting the Oscars due to the lack of coloured actor nominees is pathetic if their reasoning revolves around the notion that the Academy does not take black performances seriously. Out of the 100s of actors that many people predicted were viable choices for a nomination around only 3 coloured actors had any chance of a nomination. This was highlighted due to the precursor awards such as the Golden Globes and SAG awards where there too was a lack of diversity. Because so many other award shows did not nominate coloured actors, or only nominated one or two, it is simple to see that this is not a case of the Academy being ‘behind the times’ this is a case of a lack of good, award worthy performances by a coloured actor. The only real potential nominees were Will Smith and Idris Elba. While both deserved a nomination, if you look at the actors selected, all of them did too. Why should people be selected simply by their race? Are we getting to a stage where there is going to have to be a minimum amount of coloured actors selected? That is absurd and dilutes the quality of the nominees. It’s time people stop being so uptight and realise to get a nomination, one must give an award worthy performance. The Academy, like many other awards shows has decided no coloured actors gave such a performance.

Don’t push the blame soley to the Academy. Realise the bigger picture and instead question the diversity amongst studio executives. As is said, decisions and actions trickle down a hierarchy, meaning for something to change on screen, changes must be made behind the scenes, at the top. I am in no way defending the idea that no black actors deserved a nomination, but simply saying that boycotting the Oscars, is not the right method to highlight such discrimination. Many will argue that it seems more relevant to boycott the Oscars rather than any other awards show, because of the Academy’s prestige and standing, and this is true, however it will make no difference in terms of the wider industry. Many award ‘groups’ run independent of the guilds and voters that make up the Academy, such as the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, who vote for the Golden Globes. Forcing change amongst regulations at the Academy is going to in no way impact the HFPA. Yes, a new ‘standard’ may be set, but many of these ceremonies are only focused on one thing. Viewership. Change the industry and it’s acceptance of coloured actors and the audience mentality will also change. Seeing more coloured actors gaining roles will change the audience mindset and hopefully make it more of normality than it is now. Viewership will only increase from there.

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