There’s nothing more controversial than racial issues. Today, most people are polarized in their views regarding racial relations. With the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement contrasting with the popularity of radical conservatives like Donald Trump, you’re forced to be either in one camp or another. In light of the recent backlash regarding the lack of diversity with the Oscar nominations, people are once again weighing in with their opinion in extremes. You’re either a racist for not agreeing or these entitled actors are a bunch of whiny, PC babies who are upset because they weren’t nominated. Between these two opposites lies a truth that needs to be addressed.
It’s no secret that Hollywood has a history of lacking diversity. For every Denzel Washington, you have a Brad Pitt, Leonardo Di Caprio, and a Robert Downey, Jr. which is a generous ratio of the big name superstars that dominate the silver screen. Many believe this to be the root of the problem. Since white actors and actresses are the dominant choice in lead roles, they in turn make up a majority of the pool of potential Oscar nominees. As implied in the “Indians on TV” episode of Master of None, Hollywood assumes that casting a white star makes a movie more universal while casting a movie with Indians, in that example, makes it an Indian show or movie. In a way, people are trained to believe this because it is the status quo and minority actors and actresses rarely have the opportunity to lead in a role where the character is not specifically of their own ethnic background. That is why casting is an important factor and an indicator of a larger issue at hand. When people jump to conclusions by saying, “Those nominees were chosen because they were better actors,” they deny the fact that there are plenty of talented actors and actresses who may be overlooked for those leading roles in the first place because they are not “universal” or “relatable” enough.
There’s no denying that Hollywood has made strides since the days of racial segregation, but there is definitely room for improvement the diversity department. However, it’s not enough to only cast Asians in martial arts action films or to cast black actors in a movie about racial segregation. People in the real world exist with multiple layers. Not simply as a reflection of their stereotype, but as faceted beings with unique ideals and qualities, often times shaped by their cultural background. After all, isn’t that what makes a character more interesting? When casting characters with talented actors and actresses of color in roles outside of their cultural expectations becomes second nature in Hollywood, perhaps we’ll see a shift in the type of nominees that are elected in the future.
But, why is it such a big deal that we don’t have more people of color in leading roles winning awards and accolades for their work? The Oscar’s is basically the highest achievement for an actor. At any job, you want to be honored for the hard work that you do. Despite what one may think, acting can be a very challenging and difficult career; one that takes a significant toll mentally and physically. When people of color in the entertainment industry who do amazing work time and again take a backseat to the usual suspects, it comes off as more than just a coincidence. Historically, whites (particularly in America) are generally favored in practically every important category of life including career opportunities which makes it hard not to question if there is bias at hand when it comes to the Academy Awards. This is another indicator that the issue of racial discrimination, whether purposeful or not, goes beyond the realm of Hollywood and into our everyday lives. Until there is evidence of real equality, it will be hard to trust in the decisions of the Academy Awards committee without second-guessing their motives.
At the end of the day, the Academy nominations should always go to those who have shown the most talent. Whether you agree with the boycott or not, it has shined a light on a topic that most people prefer to push under a rug. Hopefully, in the end, this will pave the way for diversity in the stories that Hollywood tells and the people that get to tell those stories.