Lack of Oscars diversity disappoints viewers

For the second time since 1998, all twenty actors nominated for Oscars this year are white. All the nominated directors are white men. No female screenwriters or cinematographers were nominated either. This lack of diversity at the Academy Awards seems especially blatant after last year, when Twelve Years a Slave won best picture and three black actors were nominated for their performances.

In response to the homogeneity of this year’s nominees, many critics have expressed disappointment with the lack of both actor and director nominations for Selma. The film is about the 1965 civil rights protest march led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Selma was nominated for best picture, though its director Ava DuVernay and lead actor David Oyelowo, who portrayed Dr. King, were passed over for nominations for the directing and acting awards. Many had expected DuVernay to be the first black woman and fifth woman ever nominated for best director.

Given Selma‘s relevance to the tragic events in Ferguson and other current protests over the racism and injustices perpetrated by the police and justice system, many critics interpreted the Selma Oscar snubs as an egregious lack of social consciousness by the Academy voters. Mainstream films made by and about people of color are an important component of a more honest dialogue about race in the United States. In recognizing Selma at the Academy Awards, Hollywood had the opportunity to amplify and support black voices. Shamefully, they did not to the extent they might have.

Many attribute the lack of diversity in the nominations to the lack of diversity among those casting the votes. A 2012 infographic by Lee and Low Books shows how the demographics of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences contribute to its lack of appreciation for diverse perspectives. Of the 6,000 voting members, 94 percent are white and 77 percent are male, with a median age of 62. Darnell Hunt, coauthor of the “Hollywood Diversity Report” expressed a similar view in the Los Angeles Times:

“There’s a certain taste and culture [in the academy], and a particular type of storytelling that isn’t very inclusive of diverse points of view.”

While many moviegoers no longer regard stories centering around white men as universal in any way, older white men remain in charge of the movie industry. The LA Times notes that despite recent efforts to include more women and minorities in the Academy, the group has not actually changed much because members have lifelong terms. If Hollywood’s only effort to change comes through appointing more minorities, Hunt argues, “diversity will take years to accomplish.”

Furthermore, 98 percent of both Hollywood writers and producers are white. The infographic states: “Producers and writers make all the calls related to what content is developed and who is cast in leading roles. Is it surprising that every single category in this study is overwhelmingly white?”

In a Jan. 27 interview with Democracy Now, Selma director Ava DuVernay responded to a question about her lack a nomination for best director with her own question: “Why was Selma the only film that was even in the running with people of color for the award?” In addition to including a more diverse group of people in the Academy, the film industry needs to foster more opportunities to develop films that represent diverse people and perspectives.

Moving forward from the disappointing lack of diversity in this year’s Oscar nominations, moviegoers should also recognize their responsibility to demand that diverse voices and stories are portrayed in film. As consumers, we vote by spending money and attention on the media we find meaningful and interesting. Outrage at a system that does not value diversity must be coupled with a commitment to support creators of diverse media by watching their movies and TV shows and reading their books.

Anna Chotlos ’16 chotlos@stolaf.edu is from Madison, Wis. She majors in English.

Graphic Credit: ETHAN BOOTE/MANITOU MESSENGER

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