Recently, one of my brilliant and fantastically talented friends, Emily Miller, had asked me to write a short piece on the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. I very willingly obliged and Emily then put together an excellent blog post showcasing a range of opinions from five guest writers. I have copied the piece below for convenience.
Be sure to check out Emily’s page at Emily Miller Writes! She’s a fantastic writer (and actress)!
White Do You Mean? #OscarsSoWhite Controversy
We are about a week away from Oscars and instead of talking about who will win and imagining what the stars will be wearing, an uglier more serious issue has come to the forefront. For the second year in a row, the Academy has chosen not to nominate any actor or actress of color. That’s right, all 20 of the actors nominated this year are white. It’s an especially devastating blow because the same issue was brought up last year, and after promises made by many inside the Academy to fix it, it’s become apparent that those promises went largely unheard.
Now this year the #OscarsSoWhite is back with a vengeance. The hashtag, started last year in protest, once again spread like wildfire on twitter, prompting some stars to boycott the ceremony and even forcing the Academy into new rule changes regarding how long a member could stay a member for.
On the other hand, some people have been offended at being called racists, and insist that voting is fair and only those who deserve to be nominated should get a nomination.
So what’s actually going on?
Since this is a difficult issue that should be discussed thoroughly with all sorts of opinions and people, I’ve asked 5 of my coolest friends to weigh in on this and they have graciously offered agreed. Thank you Gina, John, Glynis and Nick for weighing in.
GINA MARIE RODRIGUEZ:
Look, I have a Hispanic last name and an Italian face. I have never had to deal with prejudices in the same way as my fellow Boricuas. People don’t look at me and see a “minority.” I don’t look at me and see a minority.
I can’t imagine what it is like to look in the mirror and be afraid that my looks will… cost me an award, cost me a job, cost me a beating, or cost me my life. This is the real issue at hand here. I want to make it clear that the reason that #OscarsSoWhite is an issue is because of the underlying dilemma, the cracks in the foundation that everyone are all too eager to jump over. RACISM. Yes, it still exists. If you’re reading this blog, you probably already know that. If you don’t- best to keep reading, darling.
The issue is NOT that a couple of whiney actors of color are upset that they don’t get the chance to walk away with a meaningless statue. The ISSUE is that to this day, after hundreds upon hundreds of years of oppression, they still can’t get a bunch of old white dudes to ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR EXISTENCE.
Don’t tell me that there “just aren’t any worthy actors of color this year.” What happened at the Academy this year and for many, many years prior is this: A bunch of old white dudes (and a few old white ladies) have the power to judge a wide breadth of films. We, as a people, gravitate toward what we know. What do a bunch of old white people know best? Other white people. They select what is most comfortable for them, faces to which they can relate, cultures to which they can relate, stories to which they can relate, and styles to which they can relate. These Academy members may not even be inherently racist, they are simply choosing what they know, but because the collective as a whole is not diverse, the votes are heavily weighted to favor people with less melatonin.
Were I to become famous right now, I would not face these same issues. I fall into the Cameron Diaz category. We are Hispanic but we are the right kind, the “white kind.” It is a damn shame.
The issue of racism does not just face African Americans; it faces anyone and everyone who is not the right shade of perfect. Latinos, African Americans, Indians, Native Americans; the list goes on and on; all are suffering because our country refuses to accept on a larger scale that racism is still running rampant.
Don’t let anyone tell you that #OscarsSoWhite is some bullshit scam just because Will Smith is mad that he didn’t get nominated. Actors of color already know that they are talented and so do the millions of fans who watch their work regularly. This is not about walking away with a trophy. This is about dignity. This is about expecting a country, who so proudly touts itself as the “Melting Pot” to recognize that intelligence, personality, and talent are unrelated to skin color. The Academy, and the rest of the world, must encourage diversity and stop using a color palette as a rating scale.
Another thing is that you can’t ask the nominees to not attend. That’s just dumb. You were recognized by a prestigious group for your accomplishment and not going is a middle finger to them and more importantly, yourself. Mark Ruffalo, nominated for Spotlight, put it best when he said he will be attending as a way to honor the victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Brilliant!
Now, my white privilege might allow me to say this next part, but I do think that if five white people perform better than five black people, the five white people should be nominated and vice versa. That’s how any good contest is decided. If you do better, you win, or in this case, you get nominated. However, where this argument stops is when you look at society in general.
White people have gotten a tremendous head start and have gotten the short end of the stick far less than people of color. So do we treat this Affirmative Action-style? I don’t know. This is a contest. That’s what the Oscars are. But this is also the film industry. It’s a business. And white people generally make it through business a lot easier than people of color.
So what’s the right way to go about this? Not sure.
Either way, you probably have to realize that there’s a bigger issue than just white nominees. Take a look at the people doing the voting. The Academy is made up, generally, of old, white men. In the words of Brock Lovett in Titanic: “There’s your first clue, Sherlock!” It’s not the acting pool that needs diversification; it’s the people giving them a chance to expand their careers.
Now, I’m sure by now we’ve all heard of the report that the Academy is doubling the number of women and minority voters, right? Sounds great, right? The trouble is that number only really goes up by about 300 people in a voting body of about 1700 people. AND!
It won’t happen until 2018, which sort of makes me wonder how hard it is to find women and minorities. My feeling is not very.
Anyway, I also think that we are doing a disservice to other groups when we only say “white people were nominated. Blacks should have been too!” We gloss over the rest of the world. Think of it: we have 197 other countries with countless backgrounds and we’re focused on two. Even more to the point: The Danish Girl is the story of a transgender woman played by Eddie Redmayne. He’s a great actor and I have every confidence that he handled that role beautifully, but how about the fact that there are transgender actors who can’t even get roles about the story of their lives? That seems more unfair.
And if we are going to talk only about the nominees, we’re missing something else: how about the movies that get nominated for Best Picture? The Danish Girl is not there. Creed, which has a black main character, is not there. Beasts of No Nation, another movie with a black main character, is not there. Carol, the story of two gay women, is not there (yes, I know it got two acting nominations). Does that strike you as a little strange?
Now, if these movies just weren’t as good, cool. But the Academy can pick 10 Best Picture nominees. They chose eight. Maybe that’s something worth looking into.
John McHale- works for a major news network. Politics and current events are always playing a massive part in his life, but he still tries to keep up with his college love of theatre and show biz. For more of his two cents, please check out the “Movies that BETTER BE GOOD” section of this blog.
After the Oscar nomination list was released last week, the hashtag invented about last year’s nominations #OscarsSoWhite, resurfaced with a vengeance. And although the opinions have been mixed, one thing I think we all can agree on is that people are finally talking about this issue. There is a serious problem with this industry and representation. I cannot even begin to understand how it feels to have experienced this type of discrimination your entire career. I most admire Viola Davis for speaking out against the industry itself. “The problem is not with the Oscars, the problem is with the Hollywood movie-making system.” There is a dearth of talent in the minority community that is not being called upon. If these jobs were available, it would be an entirely different story. And while the nominations this year are indeed depressing, they aren’t exactly surprising either. The Oscars are simply one piece of a systemic problem.
The Academy itself still takes some of the blame, however. The Academy is majorly white (94%), largely male (77%) and unsurprisingly aged 50 or older (86%). These statistics are indicative of the makeup of the overall Hollywood industry, so it makes sense that the Oscars would reflect the choices of this demographic. Until there is change within the industry that puts money behind minority-led projects, there will not be a change in the films that are nominated.“How many Black films are being produced every year?” Davis continues. “How are they being distributed? The films that are being made, are the big-time producers thinking outside of the box in terms of how to cast the role? Can you cast a Black woman in that role? Can you cast a Black man in that role?”
Oftentimes, producers and casting directors have no vision of thinking outside the box when it comes to casting their films. And only certain roles are bookmarked for Black or Asian or Latin characters; they can’t be seen in leading roles because people don’t want to see films like that – allegedly. While I’m sure there are bigots for whom that would matter, the majority of the American population just want to see good movies, which has nothing to do with the color of the actor’s skin.
Let’s take the film that has now officially been named the highest-grossing worldwide opening of all time. Star Wars: The Force Awakens has pulled in over $2 billion worldwide and is still climbing higher. While it did receive some technical Oscar nominations (film editing, original score, sound editing, sound mixing, visual effects) the lead female (Daisy Ridley) and lead males (John Boyega and Oscar Isaac) are notoriously absent. People are clearly not bothered by these characters in the most popular movie of the year. The question is why do studios think it will be so hard to garner an audience with these actors?
Then we have a film like Creed, of which I have heard nothing but good things for its lead actor Michael B. Jordan. The Academy chooses to acknowledge the white supporting actor, Sylvester Stallone, while the lead of the film is completely ignored. Some supporting actors have gotten Oscar nominations without their lead in tow, but it is most definitely not common and especially strange considering all the critical praise for Jordan’s performance. Idris Elba was also touted as Oscar material for his turn as a ruthless commander in Netflix’s acclaimed film Beasts of No Nation. And yet, both of them are absent from even the nominations. Even Straight Outta Compton, which has a large African-American cast, was well received by audiences and critics and yet the only people nominated were the two white screenwriters. Even in their own films, they do not get their due praise. These films are being made and they are out there, but until studios decide to fully fund them and market them properly, the numbers will likely stay the same.
And there needs to be opportunities to work in order for the best to rise to the top. The pay gap needs to be closed and more women and especially women of color need to be put at the helm of projects, as they have been found to often be more open minded with their casting choices. We need to see more female directors and producers and decision makers at the top. Without giving their voices a platform to tell their stories, they can only remain silent; the system as a whole needs to change to reflect the time we live in.
Increasingly more celebrities are stepping forward and speaking out about the inequalities within the industry that must change in order for us to move forward. Many of these people advocating on behalf of their peers are women. Geena Davis has been encouraging studio executives to add more female characters to their scripts. Meryl Streep has founded a screenwriting lab intended for women over 40. Ava DuVernay has been building up her distribution company, which releases films specifically by women and directors of color. And Viola Davis, as I have mentioned, has been crashing through the glass ceiling every chance she gets, from her jaw dropping reveal on How to Get Away with Murder to her demand for equality on the red carpet. There are so many talented women who are not even getting offered those roles because of the sexism, racism, and ageism ingrained in the industry. Davis’s comments ring true yet again: “You could probably line up all the A-list Black actresses out there, [and] they probably don’t make what one A-list White woman makes in one film,” she said. “That’s the problem. You can change the Academy, but if there are no Black films being produced, what is there to vote for?”
And what can we vote for this year? I am so disappointed in the Academy, I don’t even want to watch and I can completely understand why some actors, namely Jada Pinkett-Smith and Snoop Dogg, have chosen to boycott the Oscars. I am angered on their behalf. The Academy needs to be aware of how polarizing their ceremony is and what it says about our society as a whole. I can only be thankful that Chris Rock is hosting this year. The Academy has given him more than enough material to rip their show to shreds and I can only hope that he does so in the most hilarious way possible. If anyone can tear down the industry’s inherent racism, it’s him.
Some new films by and starring people of color to check out:
GIRLHOOD (BANDE DE FILLES), FRESH DRESSED, DOPE, 3 1/2 MINUTES, LILA & EVE, WHAT HAPPENED, MISS SIMONE?
Glynis Neely– is a TV addict with the dedication of a devout seamstress and the attention span of a small child. She loves dissecting pop culture in her spare time and enjoys staring longingly at pictures of Oscar Isaac, especially when they include cats. She is highly opinionated with the movie knowledge to back it up; her friends often refer to her as a walking IMDB. She is also extremely passionate about feminism and has no problem calling people out for misogynist, racist bullshit.
So the lovely and talented Emily Miller asked me to make my return to the blogosphere to comment on the recent #OscarsSoWhite controversy. At this point in this Sunday evening, Carly Rae Jepsen is singing this God-knows-what song in “Grease: Live”, so I thought I’d share my thoughts with you.
Firstly, I do agree with the general chatter – for the second straight year, the Oscars nominations have been…ahem…a sort of mayonnaise/Wonder bread hybrid. In other words, very Caucasian. However, I’m not entirely certain that this is a reflection of racial bias among members of the Academy. I’m going to take an opposing view here and say that maybe it just so happened that the nominees that got the highest number of votes were all Caucasian.
To be honest, it’s a little difficult for me to say that Hollywood is completely “racist” in light of Idris Elba’s win last night at the SAG Awards for his amazing performance in Beasts of No Nation. After all, as actors voted for the SAG Awards, many of them are also members of the Academy, which votes for the Oscars.
What’s especially apparent to me, however, is that we live in an extremely polarized society nowadays. I think the nominations announcement came at an unfortunate moment, coming off the #BlackLivesMatter sandstorm of 2015. The nominations only exacerbated the situation. But I don’t think we should jump to say that the Academy won’t honor artists from all races and ethnic backgrounds. After all, in recent years we’ve seen honors bestowed to people such as Steve McQueen, Lupita Nyong’o, Octavia Spencer, and Mo’Nique.
Plus, when have the Oscars honored every deserving artist of the year? It’s in the nature of the ceremony to exclude people. And just because they happened to exclude people of a different race at this particular time does not mean they’re against all people of that different race, and it doesn’t mean they won’t include them in coming years.
What we must understand is that merit is not confined to an object such as an award. As Viola Davis said last night, actors of color, even if they aren’t recognized by a governing body, will continue to do great work now and into the future. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing future work from them, and all actors. I don’t see actors in colors – I see them as a collection performances and a community of artists.
Nick Nappo- is a marketing director for a small financial services firm in downstate New York. When he’s not doing that, however, he enjoys all types of the arts, especially film. He went to Drew University for Theatre Arts with some of the contributors to this article, which is why he was asked to contribute. For his horribly outdated blog, visit nicknappo.wordpress.com.
EMILY MILLER (ME, HA.):
Anyone who has ever met me knows what an Oscar fanatic I am. Every year I blog about and obsess over every detail. Which is why the #OscarsSoWhite controversy has been especially difficult, because the Academy is truly an organization that I have grown up loving and idolizing.
There comes a point though when one becomes disenchanted with the hero they’ve loved. And while I will always hold a special place in my heart for the Oscars, on nomination day for the first time in my life, my idol failed me.
While it’s true that we shouldn’t nominate actors, directors, or films who don’t deserve it, I find it incredibly hard to believe that in two years, there wasn’t a single actor or film involving an ethnicity other than white, that didn’t deserve a nomination.
For me, it showcases two problems. The first is within The Academy themselves. For a long time The Academy was an enigmatic group of people. No one knew who they were or how many of them actually existed. The Academy has a rule that once you are inducted in, you are a member for life. (Which side story, explains Sister Dolores, who became a member and then joined a convent!)
However a few years ago, the LA Times after extensive research, issued an explosive story on who the Academy actually was. While these statistics are a few years old, they are still fairly accurate.
->.5% Asian, Native combined
The average age, is 63.
It’s hard not to balk at those statistics and admit there isn’t a problem. It’s difficult to take their nominations seriously when old white men keep nominating white actors and stories that focus on men. And for those that say they have nominated ethnicities in the past, let’s take a closer look.
In case you’re interested:
Over the course of its history, 66 Black actors have been nominated for an Oscar and 15 have won; 28 Latino actors have been nominated and 9 have won; 17 Asian actors have been nominated and 4 have won. This is the 88th Oscars, meaning 352 awards to actors have been given overall out of 1760 nominees.
Black actors nominated = 3.75% of total nominations; Black actors awarded = 4% of total awarded
Latino actors = 1.6% of total nominations; 2.5% of total awarded
Asian actors = 1% of total nominations; 1.1% of total awarded
For comparison, Black people are 13.2% of the US population; Latinos are 17%, and Asians are 5.6%.
Kind of puts things into perspective.
For almost all of modern culture, it has been the artists that have been the most liberal. The artists that have been able to stand up and protest with their creativity and art. The artists that have kept the humanity alive in the darkest of times. And so now, in the hour when the #BlackLivesMatter movement is growing stronger and they look to the artists to support them, they get no help back.
It’s frustrating for any person, but as someone that identifies as an artist, I’m especially crushed.
The way I see it, is the Academy 100% dropped the ball.
Now it would be easy to sit here and blame the Academy for all of these problems, but honestly it’s not entirely their fault. Were there films that showcased minorities that just blatantly weren’t nominated, yes. Were they bombarded with so many films featuring people of color that they had no choice but to nominate them, no.
The #OscarsSoWhite does highlight a nasty trend growing within the Academy but it really showcases a much larger issue, representation in Hollywood. Because overwhelmingly the films being made have a white male protagonist. And usually if a female stars in it, it’s a Romantic Comedy.
The film industry needs to do a better job at including everyone. We need more films starring women, in roles that men could play. We need more films telling LGBTQ narratives, actually starring those people. We need films with every race and ethnicity represented. We need less white men directing, producing, and writing films and more of everyone else.
Because we can change The Academy rules all we want but until the film industry offers equal opportunity for all, The Academy will continue to nominate the story of the white man, and continue to nominate white actors.
Yes, #OscarsSoWhite is a reality, but so is #HollywoodSoWhite. While we have created change among The Academy, lets not forget about an even greater change that needs to occur.
I’m Emily– and welcome to my blog. After graduating college with a dual degree in History and Theatre Arts, I put them to good use by working at a 2 classical theatre companies. Watch me in a webseries that’s about everything except the white man, called Sidetrack. Follow me onTwitter and my blog for all my pop culture commentary. I promise to be witty in at least one of those places at all times.
And as always, sound off in the comments section below and thanks for reading.