Oscar nominations disappoint with lack of diversity

January 26, 2016 — by Caitlin Ju

In Saratoga, students recognize that racial diversity, a topic often raised by colleges, is important but in Hollywood, the recognition of the significance of diversity is a different story.

 

Will Leonardo DiCaprio finally win an Oscar on Feb. 28? That was my main concern until I saw the list of the Oscar nominations on Jan. 14 and noticed — yet once again — an obvious absence of diversity: Only white actors were nominated for Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.

In Saratoga, students recognize that racial diversity, a topic often raised by colleges, is important. Racial diversity brings new ideas and attitudes, as well as a range of experiences. But in Hollywood, the recognition of the significance of diversity is a different story.

This year’s Oscar nomination seemed to indicate the 6,028-member Academy did not learn anything from last year’s lack of diversity in nominations. Where are the nominations for “Straight Outta Compton” as Best Picture, Will Smith for “Concussion” as Best Actor, or Idris Elba for “Beasts of No Nation” as Best Actor? It seems like the Academy did not even notice last year’s “#Oscarssowhite” backlash and instead decided to make little effort to improve its nomination pool to match the diversity of the films, actors and audience.

None of the names of the nominated all-white actors are unfamiliar, as many are the biggest stars whom awards shows adore. Cate Blanchett and Jennifer Lawrence, for instance, are frequently nominated and Academy favorites. Lawrence won Best Actress in 2013 and was nominated in 2011 and 2014. Blanchett has won Best Actress in 2005 and 2014, and was even nominated in one year for both Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. Essentially, this year is an exact replay of last year, only worse, as the Academy failed to learn anything.

In light of the lack of diversity, actress Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith’s wife, and filmmaker Spike Lee have said they won’t attend the Oscars. Lee said that the Oscar ceremony is a time to broadcast the best of the best, and the message it sends with its nominations is that blacks can’t act. After learning of the Oscar nominations, veteran civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton also criticized Hollywood for benefiting from a “fraudulent image” of progressivism.

Oscars head Cheryl Boone Isaacs after hearing of Lee and Smith’s refusal to attend the Oscars took a step in the right direction when she announced the Academy’s membership of women and diverse members would double by 2020 and a global campaign to identify and recruit new diverse members. But maybe this is too little, too late.

True, the Oscars scandal does not represent a large instance of discrimination, but neither is it insignificant and unworthy of protest. The outrage that has now surfaced is an opportunity to help resolve at least some of America’s diversity issues.

Of course, the Academy should not nominate an actor of color just for the sake of diversity, for instance, a black actor over a more deserving white actor. But the snubbed black artists this year were arguably more talented than some of the white nominees, as evidenced by audience reviews.

Snubbed films like “Creed” and “Straight Outta Compton,” both of which had black stars and directors, received 92 percent and 93 percent from audiences on Rotten Tomatoes, respectively. Heavily Oscar-nominated film The Revenant, in comparison, received 86 percent. The public truly thought the artists of “Creed” and “Straight Outta Compton” deserved Oscars, not because they were black, but because they were talented. And yet not even one non-white actor or director was nominated? It could all be one awful coincidence, or not.

As I tune in on Feb. 28 to the Oscars, the Internet will be waiting for Leonardo DiCaprio to finally get a well-deserved Oscar for Best Actor, but I will be watching to see what host Chris Rock can say to wake Hollywood and the Academy up to the necessity of diversity.

 
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