For the second year running the race for the coveted Oscars in the main Academy Award Categories; Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director and Writer have once again been completely white washed, leaving only Alejandro González Iñárritu (“The Revenant”) as the only glimmer of diversity. This has quite rightly led to a significant backlash spreading all over social media, even going as far as causing the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite to trend on Twitter. Even some notable celebrities have weighed in with their own questions and concerns on the lack of diversity; the most outspoken of which was director Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing) who used his own acceptance speech for an honorary Academy Award in November for his services to film-making as a platform to highlight the issue. While Jada Pinkett Smith took to Twitter to voice her opinion by posting a video stating calmly yet passionately, “At the Oscars … people of colour are always welcomed to give out awards … even entertain. But we are rarely recognised for our artistic accomplishments…”. Subsequently both Lee and Smith have decided to boycott the ceremony in February entirely. Considering what’s occurred in the last two years, it’s easy to see where their grievances come from and why they have decided to take such drastic actions:
Last year saw the sensational Selma about Martin Luther King’s struggle for voting rights for African Americans, however it failed to get a Best Picture, Best Actor for David Oyelowo and Best Director Ava DuVernay node despite being among most critics’ film of the year. Sure the film did eventually get the Oscar for best Original Song, but it simply wasn’t good enough considering how captivating the entire movie was. While this year we saw the snubbing of the hugely successful Creed and Straight Outta Compton which has recently become the highest grossing music biography of all time. There were also fantastic performances by Will Smith in Concussion, Idris Elba in Beast of no Nation and Samuel L. Jackson in The Hateful Eight, yet all three still had a blind eye turned to their powerful performances. However, the most infuriating thing was the only people who did get credited for the work on Straight Outta Compton and Creed were the white writers for the former and the supporting actor Sylvester Stallone for the later. Of course it will be unfair to say they didn’t deserve it, but it’s just rather disappointing for the other creatives involved who equally deserved nominations yet were ignored.
Unfortunately, it isn’t just the awards nominations that is a problem, there is a glaring lack of diversity around the entire industry as a whole. Yet calling for more diversity in Hollywood isn’t about affirmative action or token voting, it’s about justice and giving people what they deserve, credit. The reason the outcry for diversity has been so loud as of late is because people are sick and tired of seeing the same thing year after year; a lot of great films thanks to talented and disserving black actors and directors that just aren’t being recognised and appreciated.
The Academy and Hollywood needs to wake up and understand that future of the industry depends desperately on things changing, fast! Moving forward Hollywood needs endeavour to honour, support and seek out diversity if it’s still wants to remain relevant and connect with its audiences as the nation increasingly becomes less white and the world it’s in becomes smaller and more globalised. Film is an art form that holds up a mirror to society, that captures the zeitgeist and brings people together; in a worse case scenario if a segment of the public doesn’t feel properly represented and appreciated then they could disappear in search of an alternative place that’s more inclusive such as TV (It is going through a golden era after all).
But when those few actors, writers, actors and actresses of colour who do finally make it into the industry, it’s vitally important that award ceremonies continue and strive to honour these individuals with any exceptional work that transcends colour and can stand triumphantly on its own creative merits. While to the young at home watching the likes of F. Gary Gray, Steve McQueen and Michael B. Jordan earning awards when most deserved, sends out the message that success is a possibility and the industry is open to their ideas, talents and creativity and they will always be justly rewarded if their work is good enough.
If you want a great example of this future for film, just look at TV’s present which shamelessly makes Hollywood look like an old relic of the past. At the moment television really is going through a golden age particularly in the realm of diversity; the 2015 Emmy awards alone saw nominations for the likes of Niecy Nash, Queen Latifah, David Oyelowo, Taraji Henson and many more in all the main supporting categories. While Viola Davis made history by becoming the first black woman to win an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. If things continue down this trajectory; TV continuing to be inclusive to black people while film chooses to exclude them, then Hollywood is eventually going to lose a lot of great talent.
The future of diversity in Hollywood is still unclear, however as long as the conversation is kept alive on social media and celebrities in positions of power continue to speak out, then studio heads and the academy will have no choice but stand and listen. The future of film will depend and thrive on new and unique voices to keep it fresh, bold and truthful and the only real way to achieve this is by making sure regardless of age, race or gender we’re all afforded the right for our work to be seen and acknowledge for its own individual merits without discrimination. In an ever changing world, Hollywood increasingly needs diversity and the quicker it learns that better it is for all of us.