This past Thursday, the AMPA president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, and actor, John Krasinski, announced the 2016 Oscar nominees, calling out such names as Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Brie Larson, & Mark Ruffalo. Immediately following the early morning announcements, hundreds of people took to Twitter and began slamming the Academy for following in the footsteps of last years nominees. Countless individuals, including many celebrities, ridiculed the lack of racial diversity among the nominees as #Oscarssowhite began to sweep across social media. Actress Jada Pinkett Smith tweeted, "At the Oscars…people of color are always welcomed to give out awards…even entertain. But we are rarely recognized for our artistic accomplishments. Should people of color refrain from participating all together?” This tweet, combined with countless others, has led to a petition for people of color to boycott the Oscars this season.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for more diversity when it comes to the awards season. But do this year's nominees really signal a lack of equality? Out of the many films up for awards consideration this year, very few of them had performances by people of color. Such films as Concussion, Beasts of no Nation, and Tangerine all featured great performances by actors of color, but when voted on by their peers in the Academy, their performances just did not resonate as strongly as those nominated did. For example, Idris Elba, a contender this year for his work in Beasts of no Nation, missed out on a nomination, not because of his ethnicity, but because Academy voters preferred the performances of other actors. Plain and simple. It was not because his fellow actors were biased against the color of his skin, but because other performances were simply better; or, lets face it, other performers were campaigned harder than Elba.
So is #Oscarssowhite really a problem? Or, is it merely an honest snapshot of our generation of Hollywood? According to a recent study done at UCLA, more than 83% of lead actors working today fall under the category of being “white”, meaning that roughly only 17% of lead actors are considered to be of a “minority race”. These numbers offer a logical, yet still disappointing explanation as to why all of the acting nominees called on Thursday morning were those of "white" performers. The truth is that there just are not near as many actors of color working in Hollywood today as there are "white" actors.
However that may be, #Oscarssowhite IS a valid criticism, particularly concerning casting directors and screenwriters. If we want to see more diversity in award nominations, then there must be more diversity when it comes to roles and there must be less narrow-minded casting choices. #Oscarssowhite is also a legitimate call for more performers of color to infiltrate Hollywood. As of right now, for every Viola Davis or David Oyelowo working today, there are thrice as many "white" performers vying for the same type of roles. That being said, I personally would like to see more racial diversity when it comes to casting choices. Why can't we have an Idris Elba as James Bond? Or a Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Ava from Ex Machina?
So what should be the take away from this years Oscar nominations? How about instead of viewing them as a negative we view them as a brutally honest criticism of our generation's Hollywood. Lets continue to advocate diverse casting and encourage performers of color to expand their ranks, demand high-profile roles, and flood the industry with undeniably great performances. In the meantime, lets celebrate rather than detract from those nominated this year, and hope for better diversity next awards season.