Oscars: why so white?

Diversity is supposed to be prevalent in all aspects of American culture. American cinema should be no different, but according to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for the second year in a row, only Caucasian actors and actresses are worthy of being nominated for the Oscars.  

The Oscars or Academy Awards, is an award ceremony that is held annually to acknowledge the accomplishments made in film for that given year, this year being held on Feb. 28.

Voters in the Academy are to vote on categories ranging from “Best Actor in a Leading Role” to the “Best Sound Mixing” in a film. This year instead of focusing on the many films that were nominated, a big issue was brought to attention; the lack of non-Caucasian nominees in actor and actress categories. To be more exact, there were zero.

In the “Best Actor in a Leading Role” category the nominees are Bryan Cranston: “Trumbo,” Matt Damon: “The Martian,” Leonardo Dicaprio: “The Revenant,” Michael Fassbender: “Steve Jobs,” and Eddie Redmayne: “The Danish Girl.”  While all these actors are worthy of being nominated, there were many films in 2015 that were led by male African American actors that should have been recognized for their spectacular performances.

When I first came across the nominations for the numerous actor categories the first thing I was appalled by, before I even recognized the absence of African American nominees, was the fact that Will Smith was not nominated for his performance in “Concussion.” Smith’s sheer ability to ensure that the audience knew how passionate his character was about the topic of how detrimental concussions can be in American football was surely inspiring. Shameik Moore’s interpretation in “Dope,” a somewhat under-publicized movie, of a young black man in inner city Compton was a fresh take on a very overly indulged topic in American cinema.

I first came across the controversy while on Twitter the day the nominations were released to the public, on Jan. 14. I saw a few tweets that mentioned that no people of color were in any of the actor or actress ballots. The hashtag “#oscarssowhite” was trending on the social media site and it was traced back the account of April Reign, the managing editor of “Broadway Black,” an organization focused on recognizing African American theater. From the first tweet with the elementary yet appropriate hashtag, the news only spread of the growing controversy. Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, as well as director Spike Lee have announced they will not be attending the award show because of the lack of diversity in the nominees.

This is the second year in a row that races other than Caucasian have been left out of the ballots by the voters of the Academy Awards. It was definitely not as large of an issue last year, but that fact that it was brought to America’s attention this year is really important. While I do expect a change within the Academy to be made, the fact that this is even an issue in 2016 is frightening. While I do think saying the reason for the lack of diversity is pure racism is inaccurate, I do think the problem stems from the deficiency of importance put on non-Caucasian led cinematography by the Academy.

The recent Screen Actors Guild Awards, which recognizes outstanding performances in film and television, had numerous African American winners including, Idris Elba in the film “Beasts of No Nation”. Including other winners in the television categories showing that the Academy Awards may have missed on opportunities to show its audience that scripts driven by people of color should be rewarded.

Next year at this time, when the nominees are announced and hopefully there are a range of races on the ballot, there will still be talk about the lack of diversity. This is because even if someone of color wins an oscar next year, let alone gets nominated, that will not solve the diversity problem that is in American film. Solving the problem will take years of involvement with African American film by the Oscars to make sure the time and effort is put into recognizing their films and showing that the Academy Awards is in fact diverse in its observation of cinema.