Arts

Illustration: Kim Wiens.

A look into the Oscar snubs and the bigger problems they represent

According to the calendar it’s officially 2016, but with the overwhelmingly white Oscar nominations, it feels as if we are right back in 2015 when the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag originally took over Twitter and other social media sites.

Similar to last year, everyone seems to have an opinion on whether the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is purposefully snubbing non-white actors, or if it truly is a coincidence that there are no non-white actors in any of the acting categories this year.

Numerous public figures have weighed in on the debate since the Jan. 14 announcement of the nominations.

Saturday Night Live did a brilliant sketch on their Jan. 23 show where “all the white guys” win at the fake Screen Guild Awards (not to be confused with the real Screen Actors Guild Awards). Celebrities such as Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee are showing their outrage by boycotting the award show completely.

However, others were less sympathetic of the plight of actors of colour. Michael Caine said during a BBC Radio 4 interview that black actors should “be patient” and that they will, eventually, have their time to shine.

The Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, a woman of colour, announced through a statement on Twitter that the Academy would be working to diversify the voters, which is, according to a 2013 L.A. Times article, still 94 per cent white—and this was after a move to bring in new voting members in attempts to “diversify.”

#OscarsSoWhite should be more of a call for bigger change—diversifying Hollywood itself.

According to the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) “2015 Hollywood Diversity Report”, which analyzed the top 200 film releases and all of broadcast, cable, and digital television programming from 2012-2013, nearly 40 per cent of the U.S. population was non-white in 2013, yet made up only 16.7 per cent of lead roles in theatrical films and 6.5 per cent of lead roles in broadcast scripted television.

On the other hand, the amount of non-white actors is actually impressive in comparison to the rates of people of colour appearing in some of the behind-the-scenes roles in Hollywood. For theatrical films, only 11.8 per cent of writers were non-white, 17.8 per cent of directors were non-white, and film studio heads were 100 per cent male and only 6 per cent non-white.

Although these numbers have likely improved over the past few years since the 2013 data appeared in this study, as they steadily seemed to from 2011-2013, they are clearly not improving fast enough.

There must be active, ongoing attempts to make this industry more diverse. It’s clear that non-white actors are immensely talented and draw big audiences—Idris Elba from Beasts of No Nation and Michael B. Jordan from Creed were both named as two of the Oscars’ biggest snubs this year. Popular television and Netflix shows, such as How to Get Away With Murder, Empire, and Master of None all feature diverse casts and dominated headlines in 2015.

With the lack of diversity in Hollywood, it’s easy to see how non-white actors could be snubbed at the Oscars—there are less of them to choose from, which makes it easier to argue that “perhaps black actors did not deserve to make the final list,” as Charlotte Rampling told Europe 1 Radio (though she did later apologize for her statement).

When Viola Davis won an Emmy for best actress in a drama for her role in How to Get Away With Murder, being the first African-American to do so, she gave a moving speech about this diversity that is important for everyone to hear. She told the audience, presumably filled with white actors, that “the only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”

Davis’ words ring true not just for the Emmys, or the Oscars, but for every awards show. In order to diversify award nominations in the coming years, Hollywood must be diversified first.