Many consider Hollywood entertainment synonymous with progressive ideals. But, more recently, Hollywood has been exposed for not only their racist past, but also the lack of diversity found on the screen today. Last year, the Oscars came under fire with #OscarsSoWhite when not a single person of color was nominated for an award.
You would think that a year later, the academy would have learned and changed. But, #OscarsSoWhite began trending again. Perhaps there was a mistake. There is no way that the academy would make the same error two years in row. This time, however, the outrage escalated when Spike Lee announced on Instagram, “My Wife, Mrs. Tonya Lewis Lee And I Will Not Be Attending The Oscar Ceremony This Coming February.”
This initially caused an uproar against the Oscars. But, Lee later clarified that this is a much bigger problem than just the academy’s. “It goes further than the Academy Awards. It has to go back to the gatekeepers. The people who have the green-light vote,” Lee said. “We’re not in the room. The executives, when they have these green-light meetings quarterly where they look at the scripts, they look who’s in it, and they decide what we’re making and what we’re not making.”
The blame was further shifted to those whose problem this actually is, the executives, as the academy released their official statement. “This is a difficult but important conversation, and it’s time for big changes,” said Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs. “The Academy is taking dramatic steps to alter the makeup of our membership… As many of you know, we have implemented changes to diversify our membership in the last four years. But the change is not coming as fast as we would like.” Not too long after this announcement, the academy added that they intended on doubling the amount of minorities representing those responsible for the nominations.
So if the academy has spent the last four years adding diversity and has been open to changing going into the future, perhaps this problem really isn’t their fault.
Too often, unless a script demands an actor be a person of color, the role goes to someone who is white. A quick breakdown of the nominations that black actors and actresses have received reveal that a vast majority of them are for roles in which the character must be black: Chiwetel Ejiofor, who played a slave in “12 Years a Slave;” Barkhad Abdi, who played Abduwali Muse, a real life Somali pirate; or Octavia Spencer, who played a maid in “The Help.” The list goes on.
“The films that are being made, are the big-time producers thinking outside of the box in terms of how to cast the role?” Viola Davis, the first black woman to win a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series, told Entertainment Tonight. “Can you cast a black woman in that role? Can you cast a black man in that role?”
In a study of the prevalence of minorities in the film industry conducted by the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at USC, it was found that only 12.5 percent of the speaking or named characters in the top grossing films of 2014 were black and only five of the 107 directors were black.
There are those that are under the belief that there isn’t a problem at all. “One can never really know, but perhaps the black actors did not deserve to make the final list” Charlotte Rampling, nominee for Best Actress, told the French Radio network Europe 1. Well, perhaps, Rampling didn’t see Will Smith portraying Dr. Bennet Omalu in “Concussion” who was good enough to get the nod for a Golden Globe. Or, perhaps she didn’t see Michael B. Jordan play Adonis Creed in the movie “Creed,” in which he won best actor from the National Society of Film Critics. Perhaps, she didn’t see “Straight Outta Compton,” whose cast has been nominated for and won multiple awards and whose director has also been recognized for his work in the film.
What it comes down to, though, is that no matter who we blame, the Academy or movie executives, there is a problem. Minorities are historically undermined in the “progressive” film industry. The few roles that minorities do get are often ignored by the academy, and the executives are under the mindset that people want white even though the Hollywood Diversity Report, conducted yearly at UCLA, does not defend this judgement. Perhaps it’s time that the industry reevaluates their methods of selection, both the selection of who plays what role and the selection of those who are nominated.