Last year the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite was started by April Reign in response to the Academy’s dismissal of great performances from black actors and unfortunately, it’s trending again. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) released the list of Oscar nominees this morning and just like last year, the list is being called incredibly whitewashed and sadly, still not surprising.
Some people may use the “race card” for a number of issues and though at times it seems a little far-fetched, when you look at who the Academy is choosing to highlight and who they aren’t, it’s a bit hard to ignore. Despite amazing performances from people like Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation), Benicio Del Toro (Sicario), Adepero Oduye (The Big Short), John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), Michael B. Jordan (Creed) and Teyonah Parris (Chi-Raq), their names are nowhere to be found among the nominees—which is shocking, especially in Elba’s case. Of course, other fantastic actors of various races have been snubbed too, but casting non-white artists aside is a long-standing debate in Hollywood and frankly, it’s tired.
Photo Credit: Magnolia Pictures
I could never argue that Leonardo DiCaprio isn’t awesome in The Revenant, that Matt Damon in The Martian didn’t fill me with anxiety or that Eddie Redmayne didn’t break my heart in The Danish Girl, but there were plenty of other performances that either did the same, or did more. Take Tangerine for instance. Though the flick gained heavy critical attention for its unique filming style (the whole thing was shot using iPhones) and its groundbreaking casting of two incredibly talented transgender actresses to play the leads, the movie seems to have been relegated to the indie crowd as if the mass population can’t relate to jilted lovers and powerful friendships.
While award ceremonies in other forms of art have declined in meaning (Grammys? Who cares?), the Oscars are still the biggest form of recognition for those in the film industry and being noticed really matters. Even being nominated can change someone’s entire career and is basically an invitation into an elite world made up of one giant back-patting circle. Being part of the in-crowd means a wealth of employment opportunities that are generally passed around to the same names. And while film fanatics make it a point to watch everything that comes out (box office smash or not), casual moviegoers only hear of the performances organizations like the Academy choose to highlight, which continues to shape what (and who) gets noticed in North American culture.
Photo Credit: DA CHI PICTURES, LLC
The AMPAS elite clique formed in 1927 when racial tensions were high and blackface in film was still utilized as a serious artistic choice, and it takes an incredibly long time for powerful groups to evolve and grow more inclusive. As of 2014, the 6,028 Oscar voters were 93 percent white, 76 percent male and boasted an average age of 63. The slow growth has partly been due to how tough it used to be to get in, since before 2013, members had to die, retire or resign in order for a new person to enter. I’m sure the Academy isn’t intentionally ignoring other talents (at least I hope that isn't the case), but they vote for one another and when the group is predominantly white men, those are the people who will be repeatedly awarded.
The best thing the public can do is to continue to congratulate artists of all kinds and to spread the word that just because the Academy holds a select few up, it doesn’t mean those are the only ones out there.