Oscars should diversify



This year’s Oscar nominations brought many disappointments, most noticeably the lack of racial diversity in the actors and actresses nominated for awards. In fact, if it wasn’t for the Foreign Language Film category, I would be surprised if any of the directors, actors or actresses who will walk away with awards are not Caucasian.

Much of the criticism for the lack of diversity has been placed on the fact that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is strikingly monochrome. The organization is estimated to be 94 percent white and 74 percent male, according to a study by the Los Angeles Times in 2012.

President of the Academy Cheryl Boone Isaacs responded to the backlash at the nominations by saying she, “would love to see and look forward to see a greater cultural diversity among all our nominees in all of our categories.”

While I cannot say the racial makeup of the Academy doesn’t affect the choices of films nominated, I don’t believe it encompasses the entire problem. The problem has roots much deeper in the industry. For the purpose of brevity I would like to focus this column on the problem as it relates to the African-American community, not because they are the primary targets, but simply because I am most familiar with their struggles in the film industry.

Major advances to motion pictures in film history were undertaken by white directors, actors, actresses, producers and engineers. The industry was created with ideas of making advances that suited white men in the roles of director, actor and producer.

Most African-American actors, actresses, directors and producers have had to overcome societal, political and ideological boundaries to get the same opportunities that have been available to their white counterparts for years. All the while, the Academy and industry ingrain this system of give and take between the majority of white men in the Academy and the white members of the industry.

The Academy gives awards to films made by white directors and producers, or to white actors and actresses, because they are the predominant types of films out there. Basically, it is a matter of quantity, not quality. “12 Years a Slave” featured an incredible cast, amazing director and wonderful producers. It was seen as a huge success at the Oscars for the African-American film community and serves as proof that the Academy can reward merit without preference to race as long as the pool of films pleases them well enough.

Regardless of the make-up of the Academy, because there have been so few commanding roles and films for African-American actors, actresses and directors to undertake, studios and producers will be more fearful of commissioning those kinds of projects with a minimal history of award pay-outs.

Until there is a greater abundance and diversity of roles and films for African-American actors, actresses and directors, the Academy will continue to nominate from a predominately white pool of candidates, and the studios will continue to fill that pool with white candidates.

Sadly, this is unlikely to happen because the most abundant roles for African-American actors and actresses are typecast and stereotypical. Regardless of how powerful and moving the topics of segregation, civil rights and racism are in our nation’s history, if we want to see more African-Americans in movies, we need to give them more diverse roles and films.