There is no denying that there is a race problem in Hollywood, particularly when the awards season hits. On January 14, the nominees for the 88th Annual Academy Awards were announced, and there was something odd that everyone on social media seemed to notice right away: the sheer number of white faces.
The #OscarsSoWhite hashtag first appeared in 2015 in response to the nominations for the 87th entry to the yearly awards show and the sensational lack of representation in most of the categories.
Most jarring was during the 87th Academy Awards when the fantastic film Selma received a Best Picture, and Best Original Song nomination, but the film’s director, writer, and entire cast were passed over for nominations. Arguably, a film chosen as one of the best of the year would have more than a song to put it into that category. The passing over of David Oyelowo, who played Martin Luther King Jr., was inexplicable to say the least. With this issue, and plenty more, #OscarsSoWhite began trending on Twitter, and a conversation over racial representation at the Academy Awards exploded.
It should be stated, for the most recent list of nominees, that I do not mean to imply that the actors nominated gave poor performances, or are somehow untalented. In fact, of the films that I have seen so far, the nominations that each has received do feel deserved. DiCaprio’s performance in The Revenant, for example, is stunning, and he has earned his nomination. The problem I have isn’t with the films and actors that are nominated, but rather the ones that aren’t.
It could also be argued—and accurately at that—that this lack of representation is symptomatic of a larger problem that Hollywood has when it comes to telling more diverse stories, and making casting choices that might challenge established norms in film. There is no denying that the problem is bigger than the Academy Awards, but the awards are a clear and present example.
This year we see critically-acclaimed films like Creed, which received a nomination for Sylvester Stallone for supporting actor, while his co-star and lead actor Michael B. Jordan was ignored; and Straight Outta Compton, which received a Best Original Screenplay nomination, but no nod for its spectacular performances. We also see eight films in the Best Picture category that centre around the lives of white, heteronormative, cisgender characters.
The Academy Awards are problematic; that’s not really up for debate. It’s easy to argue that the entire concept of awards shows is pointless. The trouble is that in the context of Hollywood these awards shows aren’t pointless. Movies that win awards typically increase revenue, and this is viewed as proof that the same kinds of movies should continue to be made and the cycle continues viciously from there.
Again, the point here is not to suggest that the actors are bad, or the filmmakers are bad, or awards are racist. The point here is to draw attention to the problem, and to work towards resolving the bigger systemic problems that are in place.
Do I know the final answer? No, of course I don’t. Will I be doing a “Oscar Predictions” article close to the awards? Yes. Anita Sarkesian says it best: “It is both possible, and even necessary, to be critical of the media we enjoy.”