Diversity has been a long and contested issue lingering in Hollywood. There's absolutely no denying the fact that Hollywood has come a rather long way, but there still remains a lot of work to do. There are some concerns about the state of diversity in Hollywood, why the Awards matter for minorities, and the potential issues it may provoke. If you're unfamiliar with the history of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, then let's start with when the hashtag first started.
History Of #OscarsSoWhite
During the 2015 Academy Awards, there were 20 actors nominated in both lead and supporting roles. All of those actors were white. (The previous time this occurred was in 1998.) The managing editor of BroadwayBlack.com, April Reign, is credited with coining the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. Many people felt that women and minorities were snubbed in the nominations. Unfortunately, the same issue happened again in 2016.
What Is The Root Cause For This Lack Of Diversity?
I suppose this could reside in the makeup of the Academy, and those responsible for voting. According to the LA Times, Oscar voters were 94 percent Caucasian and 77 percent male and the average age was about 63 years old. Now, take those numbers and then factor in the fact that studio film heads are 94 percent white and 100 percent male. What that means is that when voters and studios are thinking about movies, they're doing so from a rather specific and selective point of view (namely, a predominately white male perspective.)
Is Hollywood Racist?
We don't have time for the long sociological answer to this, so I think the short answer would simply be "no." Racism implies a particular hatred and/or thinking of superiority. I do think that there may be some inadvertent biases or prejudices, but they are no different than the ones most of us all share. I think cultural critic, Mark Harris, probably said it best in his tweet:
Simply put: People will relate to what they know and what they like, which is why there's such an important need to diversify the voting and those who are in charge of making movies altogether.
Why Do The Oscars Matter (For Minorities)?
This is an interesting question because there have been discussions raised on whether or not people of color should even give any weight in the Academy Awards. Instead, people of color should stop looking to be recognized by the Academy and instead come together to collectively recognize one another instead. Probably one of the biggest proponents of a similar message was actress Jada Pickett Smith, who also advocated for the boycott of the Oscars altogether.
I think that while this may sound like an ideal notion, it doesn't seem to be the most practical solution — yet. Right now, one reason why the Academy Awards carry so much weight is probably due to its own popularity. When it comes to ratings, it crushes other award shows, as shown here:
Even though the 2016 ratings dipped to only 34.3 million viewers, that's still a significant pull. Besides the millions of viewers, the Academy Awards bring a lot of credibility and attention to those who win. Often times, simply being nominated will increase an actor's resume instantly. They can go from "John Smith" to "Academy Award Winner John Smith" and give a movie an instant boost. Matthew McConaughey may be a great example. After he won the award, you can see his he's now "Academy Award Winner Matthew McConaughey (go to the 1:57 mark):
For minorities, being nominated and winning these awards would open up more doors and opportunities. That means more movies could have more diverse lead roles and different stories from various perspectives can be told. When you win or are recognized, you get an opportunity to do more. When you do more, you open the door for others to follow in your footsteps. It's really that simple as Chris Rock lays out:
What Changes Have Been Made Since?
The most notable change is the amount of attention brought to this issue by social media. The mere fact that the controversy is labeled with the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite is evidence enough. Beyond that, the heightened attention has encouraged the governing board of the Academy voted to double both its female and minority members by 2020. Not only that, but for 2017 there have been a much larger number of diverse films and actors. We have films like Moonlight, Hidden Figures, Loving, Fences, Lion, and the Jungle Book to help add a plethora of diversity.
Recently, history has been made in the Academy Awards. For the first time ever, black actors have been nominated in every acting category.
Well, this certainly looks promising. At least, it does for this year's nominations — but what about the year after, or the decade after? We've seen history repeat itself (with #OscarsSoWhite), so should there be any concern for this year's uptick of diverse nominations just being a one and done knee-jerk reaction?
What's The Fear Of #OscarsSoWhite?
I think the general concern over this issue is that it will only be temporarily addressed. As mentioned before, the lack of inclusion is not a one-time event; it's happened a number of times in the past. One fear is that this year (or maybe the next) may be chock full of diversity, and then we're right back to square one in the next five years or 10 years.
"I think it's very presumptive — not only because we haven't even seen the nominations yet, so we have no idea what's going to happen — but also because one year does not fix a problem that has been going on for over 80 years. Also, let us remember that in 2016, there's been an increase in a number of films that reflect the black experience. However, with respect to people of color overall, with respect to marginalized communities, it's still been a relatively poor year. Where are the films that show the Latino or Latina experience? Where are the films that focus on the LGBTQIA community? There's still a lot of work to be done, despite the fact that we have some great films this year."
I suppose I should also note that one fear that I've seen is that this type of "affirmative action" with the Oscars will only focus on black people. While obviously black people are affected, I think it's important to note that the lack of inclusion and diversity in Hollywood ranges from women, African Americans, Asians, Hispanic/Latino, LGBT and more. In other words: Diversity can include anyone that is not of the status quo, or better yet, simply just a better reflection of the makeup of the country.
What Do You Make Of This Controversy?
Are you hopeful that the studios, voters and nominations will be more diverse moving forward? Are you afraid that it's only a short-lived change? Do you think that these awards don't really matter at all? Let me know in the comments below.
You can also watch the video for this article right here: