Last year, the Academy Awards came under fire for not being diverse enough in their nominations, inspiring the hashtag #Oscarsowhite. Unfortunately, the Academy still hasn’t learned its lesson.
This year, there were no people of color nominated for major acting awards. Alejandro G. Iñárritu, director of “The Revenant,” was the only person of color nominated for best director.
He was also the only person of color nominated for best director last year, for “Birdman.” Both movies star white men.
“Straight Outta Compton”, a movie starring and directed by people of color depicts a huge moment in black culture only received a nomination for Screenwriting. The screenwriters, named Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff, are both white.
Creed, a movie starring Michael B. Jordan, was written and directed by the African American Ryan Coogler. The only nomination that this movie received was for Sylvester Stallone, reprising his previous Oscar nominated role of Rocky Balboa.
The Oscars are supposed to reward the best work in movie making. It is one of the highest achievements in the entertainment industry. It is easy to hope the Oscars stand for achievement and that the Academy rises above racial boundaries and judges based on the art.
However, looking at this ballot, it’s clear that that isn’t true. What the Oscars are telling us instead is that only art made by white people is worthy of commendation.
But the problem isn’t only with the Academy. The sheer number of movies made by white men versus minorities guarantee the majority of nominations will go to white artists. As Viola Davis eloquently said during her Emmy acceptance speech, “You can’t win awards for roles that aren’t there.”
The entertainment industry, much like most industries in this country, is stacked against people of color reaching achievement within them. This has been a problem since the industries very beginning.
In 1956, Variety asked why there weren’t better roles for black actors, and now, decades later, we are still asking the same question.
Instead of attempting to reflect the reality of diversity in the United States in 2015, the entertainment industry clings to the same white actors, actresses and directors. The industry clings to the cash cows of the previous seasons, and it uses their success to establish a cinematic culture between the high and low.
The real divide, however, is not between high and low, but between white and color.
By refusing to incorporate people of color into the award class of movie making, Hollywood does the rest of the country a disservice.
American culture is tied to the movies that we watch. Hollywood, despite its faults, is one of the binding elements of our culture that we all strive to identify with, and look to as a reflection of our lives.
To exclude people of color leaves them out of this culture and gives validity to those in this country that believe they should be excluded.
If these roles exist, people will watch them. Artists of color exist and are capable of Oscar-worthy performances. They have to be given the chance, and their achievements have to be recognized when they are.
To continue to exclude people of color deprives, not only those individuals, but the whole nation of exceptional talent.
Snubbed by the Oscars
Once again, the Academy Awards have failed to nominate any people of color for a major acting category. Here are some of the biggest snubs and similar roles by white actors that did garner a nomination from the Academy over the years.
Michael B. Jordan
Michael B. Jordan reinvigorated the classic Rocky franchise for a new generation with his role as Apollo Creed’s son in “Creed”. Jordan has been praised for his previous work in “Fruitvale Station” (2013) and “Chronicle” (2012).
Last year he responded to negative responses to his casting as the Human Torch in “The Fantastic Four” in an editorial for Entertainment Magazine: “Sometimes you have to be the person who stands up and says, ‘I’ll be the one to shoulder all this hate. I’ll take the brunt for the next couple of generations.’ I put that responsibility on myself.”
White counterpart - Sylvester Stallone received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for the lead role in the original “Rocky”. He has also received a Best Supporting Actor Nomination for “Creed.”
Will Smith, a household name with considerable box office draw, has been nominated for Best Actor twice before for “Ali” and “The Pursuit of Happyness”. In “Concussion”, he plays a doctor who discovers the detrimental effect of concussions on pro athletes. Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, has claimed that she will boycott the Oscars because of their failure to recognize achievements of black artists, including her husband.
White counterpart - Brad Pitt received a nomination for his role in “Moneyball” (2012), a movie based on the true story of how one man changed the way we view the national pastime of baseball. He has two previous nominations, and is nominated again this year for “The Big Short.”
Oscar Isaac is a character actor drawing attention this year for his performance in sci-fi movies “Ex Machina” and “Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens.” In “Ex Machina,” Isaac plays a multimillionaire CEO who has withdrawn from the public to live out a Dr. Frankenstein complex. Entertainment Weekly called Isaac’s performance “delicately nuanced,” something that he “is quickly making a habit of” giving.
White counterpart - A genius with ambiguous morality who focuses more on his relationships with technology than with real humans is usually Oscar bait. Jesse Eisenberg received a nomination for his role as Mark Zuckerburg in The Social “Network” (2010), and this year Michael Fassbender has received nomination for Best Actor for “Steve Jobs.”
Straight Outta Compton
The N.W.A. biopic was a cultural phenomenon this summer, inspiring an Instagram filter and bringing the political message of the 80s rap group back to the forefront of public consciousness.
“Straight Outta Compton” featured a mostly black cast, including O’Shea Jackson Jr. in the role of his father, original N.W.A. member, Ice Cube. F. Gary Gray, a friend of group members Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, and South Central Los Angeles native, directed the film. In Rolling Stone, Gray called it “the most important movie I’ve ever done.”
White counterpart - The only nominations for the biopic went to its two white screenwriters Andrea Berloff and Jon Herman. Usually, musical biopics equal acting nominations or sound mixing. “Walk The Line” a biopic of country singer Johnny Cash, earned a Best Actor and Best Sound Mixing nomination, as well as a Best Actress win for Reese Witherspoon.