Whitewashing the 2016 Oscars


[dropcap]I[/dropcap]f 2015 ended a little bit more hopeful with regards to media representation for minorities, given the release of a Star Wars sequel featuring a black man and a woman as the main characters, as well as Viola Davis’s Emmy, the 2016 Oscar nominations managed to crush that hope.

This year’s Academy Awards continued last year’s pattern with zero non-white actors nominated for any of the four categories available. Similarly, no women were nominated for Best Director and Alejandro Iñárritu was the only non-white director on the list.

More surprising was Sylvester Stallone’s nomination for his supporting role in Creed while actor Michael Jordan was left out entirely. Likewise, Straight Outta Compton’s white screenplay writers were acknowledged while neither black director F. Gary Gray nor any of the film’s actors were. This is not to mention the LGBTQ+ actors who have yet to be cast in a large-scale movie (most recently, the missed opportunity to allow a trans woman to play Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl).

As expected, the overall lack of non-white nominees and other minorities has generated harsh retaliation. Celebrities Jada Pinkett Smith, Rashida Jones, and Martha Plimpton, as well as Straight Outta Compton producer Will Packer, have openly expressed their disappointment. While the backlash the Academy continuously receives for their lack of diversity is unlikely to destroy the Oscars entirely, the awards’ reputation is certainly diminishing among people from all ethnicities. After all, who cares for an awards ceremony that doesn’t even acknowledge the actors and filmmakers who represent it?

Simply put: old white men pick white people to represent the ‘best of the best.’

Not only this is the second year in a row that the Oscars failed to feature actors of colour, the Academy votership is 94 per cent white, 77 per cent male, and has a median age of 62 years old. Thus the Oscars are just a consequence of an overwhelming lack of diversity in the Academy. Simply put: old white men pick white people to represent the ‘best of the best.’

While it’s easy to assume actors of colour were simply not ‘good enough’ to be nominated for the 2016 Oscars instead of holding the Academy accountable, this year featured countless amazing performances that were oddly forgotten — Will Smith’s role in Concussion, Jason Mitchell’s in Straight Outta Compton, and Idris Elba’s in Beasts of No Nation. This pattern repeats itself across filmmaking categories in which the work of coloured people are under-recognized and undervalued.

The fact that the Academy continues to exclude different ethnicities and other minorities amplifies the notion that to be predominantly straight and caucasian is all it takes to be noticed in the film industry. It’s no wonder celebrities like Spike Lee are encouraging a boycott of the ceremony. It might be time to seriously re-think Hollywood recognition if it continues to perpetuate this exclusive environment.