#OscarsSoWhite … (again)

Amy O’ Callaghan takes a look at one of the film industry’s greatest downfalls, ahead of this awards season.

There are only two major things being discussed in regards to the 2016 Academy Awards: whether or not Leo will finally get his Oscar and the blatantly obvious lack of people of colour in the nominations list.

Following the 2015 nominations, when Ava DuVernay was snubbed for a Best Director nomination, and David Oyelowo was snubbed for Best Actor, both for the African American civil rights drama Selma, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite took social media by storm.

Instigated by a blogger named April Reign on Twitter, it wasn’t long before the blogosphere was in an uproar, with everyone asking why so few nominees were POC. The hashtag was so popular, and made such an impact, that one could be forgiven for thinking that change was imminent. Surely this year would be better? Surely there would be a greater variety of 2016 nominees? The short answer is no. Absolutely nothing has changed, and Twitter is very, very angry.

The anger and contempt towards the nominations can be summed up in one tweet which reads, “#OscarsSoWhite I guess the Academy figured after 12 Years a Slave, they were good for a decade or two.” This sounds a bit harsh, maybe, but very true when you look at the facts.

After 2014’s 12 Years a Slave swept the board with nominations, the past two years have been incredibly disappointing in regards to nominations for POC films, actors and filmmakers. With films such as Creed, Beasts of No Nation and Straight Outta Compton gaining good reviews, potentially worthy of Oscar attention last year, one would think that at least one of them would get a couple of nods. Unfortunately however, they only managed two nominations between them, Best Original Screenplay for Straight Outta Compton, and Best Supporting Actor for Sylvester Stallone in Creed, and yes, he is the film’s one white star.

Viola Davis, who will also not be attending The Oscars this year.
Viola Davis, who will also not be attending The Oscars this year.

The uproar over the lack of diversity has gained even greater tracks than it did last year, with prominent figures such as Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith and Spike Lee calling for boycott and refusing to attend this year’s ceremony. Numerous civil rights organisations are also calling for meetings with the Academy in order to discuss the issue.
In a statement released by the organisations, they declare that “if the academy cannot break this vicious circle, it risks its own irrelevancy.”

To give credit to the Academy, a unanimous decision was made that would enact a number of policy changes that would ultimately diversify and double the number of women and minority members within its ranks by 2020.

Three new seats are planned to be established within the Board of Governors, and beginning later this year, every new member’s voting status will last 10 years, and will only be renewed if the member is active within the film industry during that decade. These standards will also be retroactively applied to the Academy’s current members. Granted, it did also take a two year campaign and a few prominent Hollywood figures threatening a boycott to actually cause some change, but at least something is being done.

One could be quick to blame the Academy for the absolute lack of POC nominations and, for a large part, they do show a distinct amount of bias and prejudice. However, it also points to the fact that there’s hardly any films being made with major POC leads or directors, which isn’t an Academy problem, but rather, a Hollywood problem.

Awards nominations only serve to further emphasise the fact that the mainstream film industry treats white as “the norm,” and the only place for minorities, specifically black filmmakers and actors, is often in historical dramas, for example about either slavery or the civil rights movement.

Following the news that major changes were being made, even the Academy President, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, noted that “the Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up.”

The major problem with the rest of the industry being that there’s still hardly any POC actors being cast or any POC directors being considered for work. This year, there was a huge number of notable white performances to consider for nominations, but the only black actors and actresses being spoken about were the likes of Idris Elba, Will Smith and Mya Taylor.

This isn’t because of a lack of talent, it’s because black people in Hollywood don’t get the opportunity in the first place, and even though the Academy is implementing changes, they will have to look further into the world of indie films in order to find POC performers, directors and screenwriters because mainstream Hollywood is still having none of it.