This year’s Oscars nominations have made a lot of people angry because it obviously lacks of diversity. Out of 25 nominees in the acting and directing categories exactly 0 are people of color (POC). This is of course a problem in the year 2016 where diversity in the media is more important than ever. But I think this problem is way more complex than most of us think and it isn’t necessarily with the Academy.
Now, before I get to this I should say that I do think it’s really bad that not one POC has been nominated in the important categories this year. Because I support diversity in the media all the way. In fact, I think we still have quite a long way ahead of us in reaching the goal of complete diversity in the entertainment business. But I also think that the lack of diversity in the 2016 Oscars nominations isn’t really the Academy’s fault.
The thing is that you can’t choose from something that simply isn’t there. There were just not a lot of black or asian actors and directors involved in the relevant movies this year. Yes, maybe ‘Straight Outta Compton’ could’ve been nominated for best picture or Michael B. Jordan for best supporting role for his performance in ‘Creed’. But how do we know which nomination vote was made because the Academy member thought there were better performances than Jordan’s or because they thought that ‘Straight Outta Compton’ was too “black”. Personally, I don’t think that the latter was really the issue here. I think that the members of a big, influential organization like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences know exactly that their decisions should happen under the consideration of diversity issues. But they also know that they need to vote for performances and the work they personally thought was the best. And if they think that Eddie Redmayne’s performance in ‘The Danish Girl’ was better than Idris Elba’s in ‘Beasts Of No Nation’ than they need to vote for Redmayne and not for Elba just to ensure a quote of black nominees.
But – and this is where the problem actually is – wouldn’t there be more nominations for POC if more works and performances by them existed? Of course there would! This is a simple probability calculation. Imagine that Leonardo DiCaprio would’ve starred (as a leading or supporting actor) in seven films this year. Chances would be pretty high that he’d be nominated for more than one Oscar. Also, chances would be higher that he’d FINALLY take that golden little statue home. Now, if there would’ve been more movies starring or directed by POC, chances were also higher that one of them would’ve actually been nominated. So, all it needs is more POC in this business, right?. Well, if it just were that easy. Although, we’ve come a long way in the face of racism and misogyny in the media POC and also women still have to fight a little harder than white men to get into this business and be taken seriously. They gotta work more and prove themselves over and over again to achieve certain positions.
To demonstrate this problem, do the following:
1. Name the most famous black actors in Hollywood.
2. Now name the most famous white actors in Hollywood.
I’m guessing your answers were about as followed:
1. “Morgan Freeman, Samuel L. Jackson, Will Smith, Denzel Washington.”
Those four are by great chance the ones that popped right into your mind. After those, you probably need to think a little harder.
2. “Uhm…what do you mean? Should I really name ALL the famous white actors?”
I’m guessing you couldn’t have made up your mind which white actors are the most famous since there are so many that are very famous.
I know, this might be a little too speculative but I’m sure most of the people would’ve given those or similar answers.
You see the problem now? The way I see it, there isn’t really a diversity problem with the Academy but rather with the entertainment business. There just need to be more POC (and women, if you ask me) in this business in higher positions. They need to be taken more seriously and given more chances to prove themselves as the talented people they are. Only that way we can work towards more diversity and a higher probability of enough POC being nominated for important awards.