Oscars So White: Hollywood’s Diversity Problem Continues to Dominate the Conversation

By  · Published on January 14th, 2016

This certainly isn’t the conversation The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would like us to be having this morning. Everything should be about celebrating the nominees of the 88th Academy Awards. Publications such as this should be peppered with quotes from happy nominees. Leonardo DiCaprio is honored to be nominated among such an amazing crop of best actors (and he secretly hopes that after having to eat raw animal flesh, his Oscar chase is over). Composer John Williams is deeply honored to have received his 50th nomination. The team behind (and the fans of) The Martian will be pretty pumped to have a Best Picture nomination.

This morning should be a morning to celebrate The Academy’s recognition of some great movies.

Instead, we have to talk about diversity in Hollywood again. I know what you’re thinking, “You don’t have to talk about it.” We could just be happy that movies exist and that the sky is blue. What’s the big deal? The Academy is a large group primarily comprised of old white men, so what did we expect?

Why does it even matter, anyway?

It matters because our world would benefit from having a cinematic landscape that looked anything like the communities of people that surround us in our daily lives. There are voices out there that are not being heard because they are not represented in our entertainment.

The problem isn’t just with The Oscars. It’s a deep, systemic problem in the world of making movies. One that has (and continues to be explored) ad nauseum. And until the world we see on screen more closely resembles the diversity we see on our own streets, that conversation will and should continue.

This morning, The Academy is the poster child for the larger problem. Their nominations are a simple, easily digestible example of the diversity problem in Hollywood. It’s not that the opportunities to include diverse nominees didn’t exist. Sylvester Stallone was nominated for his performance in Creed, but co-star Michael B. Jordan and director Ryan Coogler were left out. Films like Beasts of No Nation and the Sundance darling Tangerine, which featured two strong performances from transgender leads, were ignored completely. In categories that could have easily included more gender diversity, it was nothing but the old guard (how about Creed cinematographer Maryse Alberti?) This isn’t about forcing diversity into our Oscar conversations. There are deserving candidates everywhere you look.

But again, The Academy created a list of nominees that looks a lot like their voting body. And the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite is trending again. Their need to play in their comfort zone is perhaps their greater crime. This isn’t a vast racist conspiracy, but a representation of The Academy’s own diversity problems. It’s something that will only be solved as more gender and racial diversity finds its way into the ranks of The Academy. It’s not happening fast enough for the rest of us. And here’s why. There are essentially two ways to become a member of The Academy (with the prerequisite that you are working in the production of theatrically-released motion pictures):

  1. You must be sponsored by at least two Academy members from your branch (Actors, Writers, Executives, etc.)
  2. If you are nominated for an Academy Award, you are in automatically without needing sponsors.

The long term solution to The Academy’s diversity problem is through sponsorship, one that would create a member base that isn’t so homogenous. The short term solution would be for the current voting body to step outside their comfort zone and nominate some of the deserving candidates with whom they don’t share a gender or skin tone.

Next: The 2016 Oscar Nominations

What gives me hope is that we’ve arrived at a point in which the problem is obvious and the response is immediately loud. This is only the second year of #OscarsSoWhite being a trending topic on social media. And beyond giving us an opportunity to talk about the very deserving candidates that were left out in the cold by The Academy, the conversation also simply continues to grow in volume. So much so that it is drowning out the conversation that The Academy would like us to be having instead. That’s something that will make a body like The Academy stand up and take notice. We’re not talking about how wonderful it is that Leonardo DiCaprio is nominated (and may finally win). We’re talking about the fact that Michael B. Jordan deserved to be in a split-screen with him on Oscar night. If that continues, I believe change will come. It won’t ever be as swift as we’d like, but if we continue to push back against The Academy in a very loud, public way, eventually their publicists will get them to take notice and make some changes.

And of course, there’s this:

Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the upcoming One Perfect Shot TV show (HBO Max, 2021) and the co-host of The Storm: A LOST Rewatch podcast. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)