Institutional racism is the biggest monster hiding in plain sight which mankind must fight. This twisted figure lurks inside the most supposedly superior organizations in the world. It slithers around laws proclaiming racial equality, takes root in the insecurities of weak-minded yet powerful individuals and grows, noxious and scaly with intolerance, until it seems invincible. When it comes to the film industry, the most recent and public manifestation this hideous beast took was the nominations of 2015 and 2016, which saw little to no people of colour (PoC) nominated in acting categories.
This year, all has changed. Actors of ethnic minorities have been nominated in nearly every major category - at least, of the 20 nominations for the main acting roles, 7 of those are PoC. Now, as the media continues to pat the Oscars on the back for finally including these truly deserving actors from ethnic minorities in the nominations, let us stop and think for a minute about this supposed miracle. Yes, “well done” to the Academy for realizing that talent is not exclusive to white people. “Congratulations” for understanding that films like Moonlight and the aptly name Hidden Figures deserve recognition for opening the eyes of the world to the same kind of institutionalized racism that we saw present throughout the very same system last year.
“Trump represents the kind of institutionalised racism that must be stamped out before it infects even more of society”
It is true that the Oscars have, thank goodness, realized that there are incredible PoC actors out there, as we see from the more diverse nominations list this year. And yet, there is still a long way to go. This issue of unfair underrepresentation of ethnic minorities extends beyond the red velvet-clad Oscars hall, to the film industry as a whole and its complete lack of leading roles for PoC. To see a real change in the number of PoC nominations for major awards, there needs to be a change in attitude. This is not just a glass ceiling; it is an iron curtain open slightly so as to allow for the odd leading role, but nowhere near wide enough to release the huge flood of talent at the industry’s disposal if they should choose to recognize it.
Of course, the film industry does not have the best of role models when it comes to views on the issue of race. Let’s take the new President of the United States, for example. Donald Trump’s poisonous policies have extended their vicious tentacles as far as Hollywood, as the travel ban prohibits several incredible Syrian Civil Defence volunteers such as Raed Saleh (head of the White Helmets, the subjects of the Oscar-nominated short documentary) and Khaled Khateeb, the cinematographer of the film, from attending the ceremony. The fact that these people, some nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for their role in saving over 60,000 people in Syria, are unable to receive the accolade they so justly deserve because of this ridiculous man, is horrifying. Trump represents the kind of institutionalized racism that must be stamped out before it infects even more of society, although I’m certainly glad to see that the Academy have taken positive steps towards breaking the chokehold that this kind of discrimination has previously held. Society needs to breathe, free from the gagging restraint of institutionalized racism, and let us hope that diversity continues to flourish as fast as bigotry withers away.