Diversity problem is Oscar’s curse

Tuesday, February 23, 2016
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By Michael Blanche

On Feb. 28, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will hold the prestigious and glamorous 88th Annual Oscar Awards. All eyes and ears will be on this year’s host, Chris Rock as he will be one of the few people of color to grace the stage this year.

The lack of diversity in the Oscars over the past couple of years has gotten worldwide attention, more so than the movies, nominees, performers, and probable winners.

For the second year in a row, all major nominees in the acting categories are Caucasian.

There are no nominations for a director of color or female director, nor have any films geared towards a diverse audience been recognized as a best picture contender this year.

Many notable celebrities and recipients of color that have won past Academy Awards are responding by boycotting this year’s ceremony. Last year, the hashtag #Oscarsowhite became a popular Twitter handle and has found a home among social media posts again.

Nominations don’t come easy and are counted with the utmost care. Winners are elected only by previous winners of the same category.

Actors in three or more commercially released films or sponsored by members are eligible to be nominated for the legendary award. A director must be a part of at least two movies and be credited. Technicians must have worked in the industry for a specific number of years.

According to experts, the rewards of recent Oscar reception are trending away from fame and fortune, but traditionally winners have seen a raise in pay, better roles, and offers. As a result, the lack of recognition towards professionals of color has historically affected careers, and cultural perception.

DCCC sophomore Ethan Thomas spoke about the effect the lack of diversity and recognition has on society as a whole.

“Since the vast majority of big roles are given to Caucasian actors and actresses, it leads people to have a negative point of view that people of color aren’t as important and not worthy of recognition, ,” Thomas said.

Protestors are saying this is a pattern all too familiar in the film industry. Twenty times out of the 88 ceremonies, only Caucasians have been nominated for all major acting awards. Nineteen times, only one actor or actress of color has been nominated in the acting categories.

Dr. Adriana Bohm, an associate professor of sociology who teaches the course Experiences in Diversity, teaches students the fundamental effects of structural and organizational discrimination.

“I think [the lack of diverse nominees] is a problem,” Bohm said. “But I would take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

“Why do we have so few films with African American actors in them, or producers and directors that are coming up?”

According to the 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report, minority actors make up 17 percent of lead acting roles, even though minorities are 40 percent of the U.S. population. Top film executives are 94 percent white and 100 percent male.

In 2013, The Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism reported 93 percent of directors were white and as little as 10 percent of them offered speaking roles to minorities.

“[Such statistics] fit into the pattern of social racism, where you have people of color, once again, not being recognized for their talents, and are not seen as equal to their white counterparts,” Bohm said. “And why does it seem like when African American actors and actresses are nominated, they are nominated for roles which don’t depict African Americans in the best light?”

Mary McDermott, a professor of American Cinema at DCCC and of Cinema Art at Penn State University, has a master’s degree in film and media arts. Also, as a filmmaker and screenwriter who has been involved in curating film events, she acknowledges the problems and believes that racism, sexism, and homophobia have always been a part of the industry.

Through email, McDermott discussed the first person of color to win an Academy

Award was Hattie McDaniel for best supporting actress in 1940 for her portrayal of the house slave Mammy in “Gone with the Wind.”

Back then, the Ambassador Hotel was still segregated, McDaniel was only allowed to sit at a segregated table for two in the back of the restaurant.

Bohm referred to Halle Berry, the only African American woman to ever win an Oscar in 2001 for best actress, for the role of an abusive single mother in “Monster’s Ball.”

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The character she portrayed, Letitia Musgrove, primarily sought sexual pleasure throughout the film and found it with the white man that executed her husband.

Of the four African American men to win Oscars for best actor, the first was a traveling handyman who doesn’t get paid for his hard work. The second was a violent and corrupt detective that was shot to death. The next two were an African dictator responsible for thousands of deaths and an unfaithful musician with a heroin addiction.

“The recent actions by the Academy to change things are steps in the right direction,” McDermott wrote in an email. “Time will tell if the [protests] make a

difference. But, change always really comes from the ground up.”

According to Bohm, the conversation regarding diversity in popular culture has gone on for “decades and centuries.”

“I do wish we could get beyond this conversation so we do have representation that’s diverse, even if it’s not perfectly equal,” Bohm added.

Contact Michael Blanche at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu

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By Michael Blanche

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