There is a major problem in Hollywood and it regards the lack of recognition of minority talent. For the second consecutive year, the Academy Awards failed to nominate any minority actors in the top four categories: Actor in a Leading Role, Actor in a Supporting Role, Actress in a Leading Role and Actress in a Supporting Role. The overall lack of diversity in this year’s nominations in all categories resulted in backlash from some of Hollywood’s elites.
Mega-blockbuster films about black lives such as “Creed” and “Straight Outta Compton” received recognition, however the nominations were for white writers (“Compton”) or white actors (Sylvester Stallone in “Creed”), while the black directors of each film received no recognition. Although the issue of minority recognition at the Oscars isn’t new, the academy has improved its recognition of black talent since the start of the century, making up for decades of neglect. So what really explains the most recent Oscar whiteouts? During a time where race relations are constantly tested, the academy’s decision to not nominate any minority talent only deepens the rift.
In 2014, Lupita Nyong’o was the last black actress to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in “12 Years a Slave.” Nyong’o expressed her disappointment about the lack of inclusion in this year’s Academy Awards nominations in an Instagram post. “The awards should dictate the terms of art in our modern society, but rather be a diverse reflection of the best of what our art has to offer today,” said Nyong’o. “I stand with my peers who are calling for change in expanding the stories that are told and recognition of the people who tell them.”
Nyong’o isn’t speaking out against the academy whiteout alone. George Clooney told Variety magazine that African Americans aren’t represented well enough in the film industry. Director Steve McQueen expressed to BBC that he believes racism has a lot to do with it and David Oyelowo of “Selma” described the academy’s actions of choosing all-white nominations for a second year in a row as “unforgiveable.”
Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith are among those who spoke out against the nominations. Jada Pinkett Smith released a video on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day announcing she and husband Will Smith would not attend the Oscars ceremony due to the academy’s lack of inclusion. Smith also called for others to join and support the Oscars boycott. Smith said on her two minute Facebook video, “Maybe it’s time we pull back our resources and we put them back into our communities, and we make programs for ourselves that acknowledge us in ways that we see fit, that are just as good as the so-called mainstream.”
Halle Berry, the first and only black woman to win an Oscar for Actress in a Leading Role (for her role in 2001’s “Monster Ball”) also spoke out about the Oscars controversy. The 49-year-old actress expressed her feelings towards being the only woman of color to ever have won “Best Actress,” deeming the situation heartbreaking.
“Honestly, that win almost 15 years ago was so iconic. It was important to me, but I had the knowing in the moment that it was bigger than me,” Berry said. “I believed that in that moment, that when I said ‘The door tonight has been opened,’ I believed that with every bone in my body that this was going to incite change because this door, this barrier had been broken.” Berry continued, “To sit here almost 15 years later, and knowing that another woman of color has not walked through that door, is heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking, because I thought that moment was bigger than me. It’s heartbreaking to start to think maybe it wasn’t bigger than me. Maybe it wasn’t. And I so desperately felt like it was.”
Not everyone is in support of those against the Academy Awards whiteout. Charlotte Rampling stated in an interview with France’s Europe 1 radio that promoting diversity in Oscar nominations is racist to whites and perhaps the black actors did not deserve to make the final list. Oscar-winning producer Gerald Molen also addressed the controversy, telling the Hollywood Reporter that the idea of a boycott is ridiculous. “Are their noses bent out of shape by the award nominations? Of course. That is normal in a town of egos and red carpet desires. While there were many performances of note, not all my choices for best in the various categories have been realized,” said Molen.
Academy President Cheryl Boone Issacs also addressed the controversy noting that the academy’s efforts towards inclusion are moving too slowly. “You are never going to know what is going to appear on the sheet of paper until you see it,” she said. “We have got to speed it up.” Following last year’s similar backlash, Issacs began the A2020 initiative aimed at providing more opportunities to women and minorities.