The Oscars showcase true racism in film

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Lewis Elliott discusses the disparity between nominations and demographics within the Oscar awards that has led to this issue

If you’ve listened to the news or any social media in recent weeks then there’s a good chance you’ve heard about the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, the boycotts, and the glaring lack of diversity in the nominations. Sadly it’s as true this year as it has been previously.

Given the history of the film industry in Hollywood, and the USA more generally, and the world as a whole – perhaps it’s not altogether surprising that this kind of thing still crops up. We hear a lot about “diversity”, “inclusivity”, “combatting” discrimination and so on, and of course there has been progress in many areas, but this does not change the fact that if you’re anything other than white (or male!), then you could well be subject to such discrimination.

When you look at the Oscars’ Academy’s composition: which in 2013 was 93% white and 76% male (LA Times), this shows how uncoupled the organisation is from the demographic reality of the wider United States. No wonder, then, that the nominations we see are unrepresentative. As a white male I’ve no problem admitting that I can’t empathise with how this outmoded and hugely dated setup might affect actors of colour, those who are female, as well as the wider audience, as I haven’t personally lived out this experience. Nonetheless even I can see quite clearly that it must change, for the sake of the white men who are unduly privileged as much as it must change for the women and for those of colour who all suffer greatly under this system.

“the Oscars and its Academy must come clean and admit that for too long they have not been inclusive or fair when it comes to diversity”

As a society, films, TV and media in general are things that have become important in our lives, whether for leisure, news or anything else. By giving such an asymmetrical and unrepresentative impression of society, I would argue that the Oscars risks alienating audiences, actors and indeed acting hopefuls from other backgrounds who want to enter the industry. After all, why go to all that effort when skilled actors of colour are seemingly disregarded? This reminds me in a way of the controversy surrounding Selma’s reception last year. However, it is imperative to remember that the Oscars can only nominate the content that the film industry releases – thus it’s arguably their fault as much as it is that of the Academy.

Nonetheless, the Oscars and its Academy must come clean and admit that for far too long they have not been inclusive or fair when it comes to diversity. Nobody’s asking that suddenly black and minority, or indeed women or LGBT+ or any other actors be included solely on the basis of their origin/gender/sexuality – of course not – only that this should never count against them, implicitly or explicitly. Awards and nominations should always be given on the basis of merit, not where you come from, what you look like or your gender. The film industry, and consequently the nominations and awards it gives out, should broadly represent the increasingly diverse society in which they exist.

“There’s no justification whatsoever for it to be this way. I think what we really need is some honesty about what the Oscars and wider industry got and keep getting wrong”

Perhaps you might think Chris Rock did go too far in his monologue at the awards ceremony, but whatever opinions we may have of that, I found that one point he made did resonate: “If they nominated hosts I wouldn’t even get this job so you’d be watching Neil Patrick Harris right now”. Regardless of how that comes across, from what I can see it does stand to reason and just goes to underline the case for real change. There’s no justification whatsoever for it to be this way.

I think what we really need is some honesty. Honesty about what the Oscars and wider industry got and keep getting wrong, and some active discussion about how this ongoing problem can be changed for the better in the future.


Matthew Hall believes Mr DiCaprio can’t detract from #OscarsSoWhite

Contrary to expectations, the long-awaited victory of Leonardo DiCaprio at the Oscars for his role in The Revenant did not divert attention from the criticisms directed at the ceremony for the decision not to nominate any black actors for awards. Neither was DiCaprio’s celebratory speech largely dedicated to the dangers of global warming able to steal the headlines. Instead, the lingering memory of the 2016 Oscars will be the chronic underrepresentation of black nominees. And this inevitably raises questions about the viability of its future amid the changing landscape of contemporary cinema.

This is unfortunate for two reasons. Firstly, not only does it perpetuate the image of the American film industry as one which discriminates against black actors, but the ongoing debate casts a shadow over the talent which is prevalent in cinema. Take, for example, Michael B. Jordan’s portrayal of Adonis Creed in Rocky, overlooked by the awards committee at the expense of Sylvester Stallone who was rewarded with a nomination for the Best Performance by an Actor in the Supporting Role. Equally, Idris Elba could be entitled to feel disgruntled about not being nominated for his stellar performance in Beasts of No Nation.

“this inevitably raises questions about the viability of its future amid the changing landscape of contemporary cinema”

The regrettable decision not to reward black actors for their roles is particularly problematic for the Oscars since it occupies the role of the elite of the film industry in the subconscious of cinema-goers. But this lofty position can surely no longer be assured when the aftermath of the event is dominated not by discussion of the awards given to actors, but by polemics about the morality of the lack of nominations for black actors and boycotts by key players in the film industry.

If there is something positive to be gleaned from the recent debacle at the Oscars, it is that the nominations for awards being composed exclusively of white actors are not representative of the film industry as a whole. Steps are being taken to incorporate a more inclusive representation of society in its awards process. The César Awards in France is particularly progressive in this respect and earlier this year Fatima, a film recounting the daily torments of a North African immigrant family was rewarded with a number of awards. It is inconceivable that such a film would be able to compete with the extravagance and pomp favoured by the Oscars.

The French actor of Senegalese origin Omar Sy – criminally underrated across the channel in the United Kingdom – won the Best Actor award for his performance in Les Intouchables at the César ceremony in 2012 and will surely be rewarded once again for his role in Chocolat, in which he plays France’s first black circus clown. Sy praised the boycott of the Oscars, claiming that “it was legitimate and could rebalance things”, but it seems that the balance is already weighing against the Oscars due to not anticipating the fallout from the issue of racial inclusion.

“The regrettable decision not to reward black actors for their roles is particularly problematic for the Oscars”

Therefore, while Leonardo DiCaprio’s concerns for environmental issues are admirable, it is nonetheless a shame that he chose to ignore the underrepresentation of black actors among the nominees at the 2016 Oscars. Consequently, the credibility of the Oscars in contemporary cinema will continue to come under even greater threat, as long as the clamour for an equal, fair and racially inclusive list of nominees for awards is ignored.

Last modified: 8th March 2016

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