For years, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has ignored the achievement of Black actors, writers, directors, and cinematographers. More recently, in the last two years, the Oscars have refused to nominate any black actors or actresses in the four acting categories. #OscarsSoWhite was created last year by April Reign after she noticed the lack of diversity amongst the nominees. It has had incredible momentum, crossing Twitter lines, and gaining the attention of Bloggers and other Twitter territories. People are upset. They should be. As we know, the structure of the illustrious Academy has allowed its demographic to mirror congress or a country club, or a Fortune 500 company’s board room. Old white men who loved Rocky in 1976, but didn’t understand Creed. Old white men who liked Samuel Jackson’s performance in The Hateful Eight, but loved Jennifer Jason Leigh’s. These are the people that decide the best in film.
An LA Times study says that The Oscar Voters are 94% White, 77% male and have a median age of 62. It’s obviously why films like Dope & Straight Outta Compton aren’t mentioned or celebrated. Actors like Denzel Washington, Cuba Gooding Jr., Octavia Spencer, Whoopi Goldberg, Halley Berry and Lupita Nyong’o have been rewarded for roles that reinforce tropes and dull stereotypes.
None of this is new, though.
Black people get mad at white people. We forget about it until it’s time to complain the next year.
I don’t want to sound dismissive. It is a massive problem. Black people are a huge part of Hollywood, generating billions for the biggest studios in the world, and deserve to be recognized for their creative and artistic accomplishments. It’s not as simple as creating black award shows. The BET Awards will never have the same recognition as The Academy, just like The MTV Movie Awards. The NAACP Image Awards are great for celebrating one another, but they were not designed to reward achievements in film. Will & Jada Pinkett-Smith are considering boycotting the ceremony altogether. Spike Lee is boycotting. Marc Ruffalo may boycott and he’s nominated. The Academy has made it their goal to increase diversity among the Voting Committee by 2020 after the backlash they faced this year. All of these things have happened and I’m still wondering if this matter, how much it matters, who to blame, how we change it… and if I should watch.
Racism is a white problem that affects us all. The lack of diversity in Oscar nominations are a symptom of a larger problem. Black creativity, black mastery, black achievement and black excellence have always been difficult for white supremacy because it undermines its existence. I don’t need The Academy to tell me that Samuel L. Jackson did an amazing job in The Hateful Eight. Ryan Coogler directed the shit out of Creed and no one can tell me otherwise. Michael B. Jordan will win an Oscar one day, but his performance in Creed isn’t the one. Abraham Atta and Jason Mitchell deserve nominations for their performances in Beasts Of No Nation and Straight Outta Compton. Their performances are amazing… Nomination or not.
Bringing more POCs into the voting block is a great thing, but more importantly, Hollywood studios need restructuring. Black people need roles that challenge their abilities and audience expectations. Black directors need to be considered for all projects, not just Black Panther, and other black films. Currently, it’s white writers creating scripts, white directors leading projects, white producers on the credits, and white executives funding it all. We can’t wait for white people to recognize our place in Hollywood, in front of and behind the scenes. We need to create our own opportunities. Ava DuVernay, director of Selma, is on the right track. She founded ARRAY, a film distribution company, that highlights movies starring and created by women and POCs. We must challenge the existing film institutions to fund movies with casts that reflect society, and visionaries that can offer unique perspectives.
Our collective self-worth is tied to the validation of the White Mainstream. The Black Experience has been tied to white supremacy for centuries. We’ve adopted their world view and now see success through a white lens. We can only change when we realize our greatness, self-worth and creativity. We need to encourage and nurture black writers, directors, editors, actors, and composers. Those that are already established need to create platforms for others like Ava DuVernay has with ARRAY. If we can do this we will be recognized by The Academy, and hopefully, an Academy that is more inclusive of all groups and movie-lovers.
I’ll skip The Oscars this year. For this monolithic institution to continue to only celebrate white people proves that it is not awarding the highest artistic and technical achievements of the past year. When The Oscars ignore black excellence in film it doesn’t invalidate us, it discredits them. We should recognize our own excellence, but continue to ask for respect from the body that claims to represent the best in the industry.