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How White Will the Oscars Be This Year?

#OscarsSoWhite may make an unwelcome comeback

By Kelly McDonnell | 12/15/17 8:55am
Kimberly Cataudella / American Word Magazine

Overwhelmingly white Oscar nominations across Academy categories are a trend that celebrities like Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee urged hundreds of people to denounce in 2016. But were the boycotts and trending hashtag #OscarsSoWhite enough? This year, speculated nominations for Academy Awards are shaping up to be inordinately white – again.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was quick to commit itself to “doubling the number of women and diverse members by 2020,” according to a vote taken by the Board of

Governors in 2016. The 2017 Oscar nominations even seemed to show the Academy’s turn around. A record number of black actors were nominated in every acting category, in addition to 9 films with non-white subjects. Dev Patel was the first Indian actor to be nominated in 13 years.

People praised the Academy for the “overwhelming” diversity welcomed by the nominations. Yet, in the 89 years of Academy Awards, no black artist has ever won best director, and zero documentaries by black women have ever won.

In a pledge to commit to increasing diversity, the Academy re-organized its voting board with the addition of 638 members of various ethnicities, ages and gender identities.

So it seemed, for the 2017 Oscars, that the Academy was taking grandiose strides towards diverse nominations and membership. But that is not the case.

“Dunkirk,” directed by Christopher Nolan, has no main actors of color. “Battle of the Sexes” starring Emma Stone and Steve Carrell, is white-centric. “Wonderstruck,” directed by Todd Haynes, whose lead actors are all white, is seated for a couple nominations. The list continues.

Entertainment Weekly compiled 35 films that have reputability to become nominated for awards, and an uncomfortable majority of them feature no lead actors of color. “Get Out,” directed by Jordan Peele, “Wonder Woman” directed by Patty Jenkins, “Beguiled” directed by another female director, Sofia Coppola, and “Detroit” directed by Kathryn Bigelow are four valuable mentions for nominations that represent diversity positively.

However, it is hardly representative of which actors and what films should be nominated to fulfill the Academy’s commitment to celebrating diversity.

This lack of representation forecasts another #OscarsSoWhite storm. But perhaps focus should be shifted away from the Academy, and towards production companies that don’t invent new roles for actors of color – or hire female directors, Asian cinematographers, Middle Eastern screenwriters, and Black animators.

Joel Gershon, a professor at American University’s School of Communication, responded to the hashtag by acknowledging that “if there’s a lack of diversity, someone’s going to notice it.”

In 2017, how is it acceptable that films can feature no actors of color while our nation’s population continues to diversify? While the Academy should be held accountable for its responsibility to nominate and support film personnel of color, cinema goliaths who produce film must realize their role in celebrating diversity. Camryn Anderson, a freshman in the School of Public Affairs, says that the film industry “isn’t making room” for people of color, but it needs to.

#OscarsSoWhite was a movement that called out bias, and visible progress was made. “Moonlight,” a film with a Black centric cast, story and production crew won Best Picture last year. But it’s not enough. The hashtag may trend again if the 2018 Oscar nominations aren’t as inclusive as the Academy promised they would be.

However, this movement sparked a step to reversing the neglect of diverse talent within Hollywood. It’s important to urge those involved in the film industry to celebrate people of color. Diversity in film is not just inclusive, it is necessary.