A new year, and with it comes the glitz and glamour of the film awards season to celebrate the best artists in the industry. The Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice Awards may have already passed by, but it’s the Oscars that stand out well above the rest – these are the prizes that really matter to Hollywood. Thousands tuned in online to watch Ang Lee and Guillermo del Toro, along with Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs and actor John Krasinski, announce the nominations of the 88th Academy Awards.
Apart from the yearly controversy and surprises concerning some of those nominated and snubbed, there was one large elephant left in the room. For the second year in a row all four actor and actress categories are solely white. The result of which was widespread outrage on social media under the Twitter hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. There was no mention of actors like Michael B. Jordan (Creed), Samuel L. Jackson (The Hateful Eight) or the cast of the critically acclaimed Straight Outta Compton. Since the controversy surfaced actors Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith have announced that they are boycotting this year’s ceremony due to this lack of diversity.
The latest on the issue is a response published on The Academy’s Twitter feed by its president Cheryl Boone Isaacs:
I’d like to acknowledge the wonderful work of this year’s nominees. While we celebrate their extraordinary achievements, I am both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion. This is a difficult but important conversation, and it’s time for big changes. The Academy is taking dramatic steps to alter the makeup of our membership. In the coming days and weeks we will conduct a review of our membership recruitment in order to bring about much-needed diversity in our 2016 class and beyond.
As many of you know, we have implemented changes to diversify our membership in the last four years. But the change is not coming as fast as we would like. We need to do more, and better and more quickly.
This isn’t unprecedented for the Academy. In the ‘60s and ‘70s it was about recruiting younger members to stay vital and relevant. In 2016, the mandate is inclusion in all of its facets: gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation. We recognize the very real concerns of our community, and I so appreciate all of you who have reached out to me in our effort to move forward together.
It’s clear that Isaacs isn’t happy with the all-white nominees saying she’s “heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion.” Her initial response is to bring about “big changes” via the “dramatic steps” of reviewing the Academy’s membership recruitment to help bring about “much-needed diversity”. Although she admits steps have already been taken to do this over the last four years, she is adamant that this year’s nominations do not reflect that this change is happening fast enough and therefore more needs to be done, and done quickly. This is followed by a reiteration that “the mandate is inclusion in all facets: gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation.”
Whilst the nominations have caused much upset for this reason, there is another opinion circulating throughout the media. The view is that whilst it’s a shame the acting categories are 100% white, surely race shouldn’t come into it. The Oscars are there to award the best performances in film from the last year, and therefore the color of the artist’s skin shouldn’t even be taken into consideration – only the quality of their acting. African-American actress Janet Hubert (Aunt Viv in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) posted a video yesterday responding to Pinkett Smith’s boycott telling her that there’s more to worry about in life than the Oscars.
Granted though, if a lack of diversity amongst the Academy’s voters is affecting actors of other races being considered, then something more does indeed need to be done. After all in 2012 the LA Times conducted a study which found that 94% of voters were white and a median age of 62 – with some of the Academy’s 15 branches being almost exclusively white and male.
But are race, gender and sexual orientation the only problem? Surely the issue is deeper than this? What about class and privilege for example: In 2015 the only two British male actors nominated (Benedict Cumberbatch and Eddie Redmayne) were educated at two of England’s top $40,000-a-year private schools – blessed with exceptional dramatic facilities. Have they too an unfair advantage?
The 88th Academy Awards Ceremony will be telecast on Sunday, February 28th, 2016, by ABC Television Network starting at 7 p.m. ET.