The Academy's lack of diversity has once more become central to the awards race discourse after this year's Oscar nominations continue the lack of non-white nominees in all categories.
Really, it's nothing new. This has been the case since the awards' inception back 1929; but last year's nominations saw a kind of breakthrough in demands for diversity. After the revelation the awards hadn't been so dominated by white nominees since 1998, with not a single non-white actor being nominated, Twitter joined together under the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite to express their dismay. It seemed shocking to so many that Ava DuVernay's stunningly executed, powerfully felt Selma would walk away with so little recognition; a cursory Best Picture nomination, but nothing for the talents of DuVernay herself, or lead actor David Oyelowo.
Apparently, the Academy learnt nothing. The 2016 Oscar nominations landed, and #OscarsSoWhite resurged as the diversity of this year's selection proved an even greater failure than its previous year.
Once more, not a single non-white actor has been recognised amongst the acting categories. None of the nominated films centre on a non-white protagonist. In the main categories, we've basically got Alejandro González Iñárritu up for director and then a horde of white people. Where's Idris Elba and his fearsome performance in Beasts of No Nation? Where's Will Smith's nomination for Concussion? Where's Benicio del Toro's nomination for his intense turn in Sicario? Where are the nominations for Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor of Tangerine?
The Academy must think 12 Years A Slave bought them 12 years to be white. #OscarsSoWhite— HoustonPA (@H0ustonPa) January 14, 2016
It's easy to say that Awards Season doesn't matter when you've the luxury of being repped so often that you've become bored. #OscarsSoWhite— Affluenza Jedi (@KendraJames_) January 14, 2016
There are more nominations for white men named Mark than there are for people of color across all acting categories.— Saladin Ahmed (@saladinahmed) January 14, 2016
It can seem harsh to directly attack the Academy for its lack of diversity; especially when it's essentially serving as a reflection of a deeply skewed industry. How can they nominate black, or any non-white, narratives when they're either not receiving the support of major studios, or simply not being told at all?
But that serves as a very, very poor excuse here; right there, in front of its eyes, lie two films so prestigious in their telling they seemed simply born for Oscar glory: Ryan Coogler's Creed and F. Gary Gray's Straight Outta Compton. A heartfelt underdog story and a triumphant musical biopic, genres of film picked up by the Academy time and time again. When the narratives deal with white heroes, at least.
And, yet, they're missing from the Best Picture slate; even though this year's list only used 8 slots out of a possible 10. And what's worse? Both films did grab a single nomination each, and each of those nominees were white. In films made by, and about, black individuals.
A supporting actor nomination for Sylvester Stallone in Creed, and a best original screenplay nomination for Straight Outta Compton's screenwriters Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff (with story additionally provided by S. Leigh Savidge). A bizarre choice considering, of all Straight Outta Compton's triumphs, its script wasn't of any overshadowing brilliance. Where are the performances? The sharp direction?
It's telling in a film directed by a black dude with five black dudes in leads, they nominate two white scriptwriters #StraightOuttaCompton— trey taylor (@treytylor) January 14, 2016
Correction: THREE white scriptwriters. pic.twitter.com/ecnjDBsSFG— trey taylor (@treytylor) January 14, 2016
The Academy claimed to have worked hard to diversify its membership, last year inviting 322 new members including David Oyelowo, Concussion's Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and F. Gary Gray. Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs announced a new initiative entitled A2020 to further diversify the Academy and encourage new opportunities within the industry. Really, though, it's going to take a whole bunch more to alter the fact that Oscar voters last year were 94% white. And how have things somehow gotten worse this year?
Clearly, this isn't good enough. And it's time to hold the Academy responsible. Why have these critically-lauded films been ignored? Why is the Academy so wilfully ignoring the position of influence it has in recognising and promoting diversity in Hollywood? Especially knowing that to recognise the likes of Creed and Straight Outta Compton would be to fire up the studio machine into finally recognising non-white narratives, stories, and individual contributions as worthy of promotion and prestige.
Can we hope for a better 2017? It can be hard to feel optimistic at this point, honestly. But there's one thing to look forward to, at least: you can bet Oscar host Chris Rock will be hiding some killer lines about this up his sleeve.
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