Oscars nominations spark controversy throughout the country


Grace Downing, Staff Writer

Following the announcement of this year’s Academy Awards, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences received considerable amounts of backlash when, for the second year in a row, the entirety of acting nominations went to white actors and actresses. Not a single minority star made the nominee list for the 2016 Oscars.

This sparked controversy throughout the country as numerous people spoke out about the Academy’s nomination choices, and whether or not this year’s list is considered a result of racism, not just in the Academy, but also in today’s acting industry.

As a result of this immense backlash, the Academy has begun working to make changes in the ways that it votes, specifically striving to create a more diverse group of members among the actors portion of the Academy. According to the New York Times, only about six percent of these members are black, less than four percent are Hispanic, and less than two percent are Asian.

The Academy announced that it intends to double the number of minority stars that make up its membership by 2020, which is an encouraging start, but even then, white actors and actresses would still heavily outnumber the minorities.

After the nominations were released, actress Jada Pinkett-Smith and director Spike Lee both announced that they would not be attending the Oscars this year, due to the lack of diversity displayed in the list of acting nominees.

Soon after, Jada’s husband, Will Smith, also made the decision to boycott the Oscars. In an interview with reporter Robin Roberts on “Good Morning America,” Smith made a statement about how the recent choices the Academy has made indicates the growing race problems in America.

“When I look at it, the nominations reflect the Academy,” Smith said. “The Academy reflects the industry – reflects Hollywood. And the industry reflects America, it reflects a series of challenges that we are having in our country at the moment. There’s a regressive slide towards separatism, towards racial and religious disharmony. And that’s not the Hollywood I want to leave behind. That’s not the industry, that’s not the America, that I want to leave behind.”

Smith also spoke about how seeing these nominees and the lack of diversity among them will resonate with kids today.

“This is so deeply not about me,” Smith said. “This is about children that are going to sit down, and they’re going to watch this show, and they are not going to see themselves represented.”

Smith has been nominated for an Academy Award twice in the past years, and both times, he did not in fact lose to white people, but to minorities. How is it that only a short while ago, there were multiple nominees and winners at the Oscars of varying ethnicities, and now, not a single minority actor was even considered to win?

In an interview with the Associated Press at the Sundance Film Festival a few weeks ago, actor Don Cheadle pointed out that despite the Academy’s efforts to create more diversity among its members, the problem goes much deeper than that.

“I applaud [the Academy’s] attempt to do something about it, which is great,” Cheadle said. “But again, this is dealing with the symptom, not starting at the root cause, how we even get to results like this, which has to do with inclusion and access and the ability for people of color, women, minorities to get entry-level positions where you can become someone who can green-light a movie.”

The issue isn’t just about the lack of diversity throughout the Academy, but about the lack of diversity throughout the entire acting industry. One of the reasons that these actors are not getting nominated is because the ratio of white actors in leading roles vastly outweighs that of people of color. According to PBS, in 2014, a little over 73 percent of film actors were white, and amongst the top 100 movies of that year, only 17 contained minority actors playing lead or co-lead roles.

Far too often, minority actors find themselves being cornered into playing certain roles that fit the stereotypes of their respective races. These characters usually lack depth and complexity, and for the most part, simply exist to portray a stereotype. Because so many actors of color find themselves in roles likes these, it results in a very minute group that could even have a chance of being nominated for an Academy Award.

Actor Steven Yeun, who plays Glenn Rhee on the widely successful television series, “The Walking Dead,” is one of few minority actors to play a complex leading role that doesn’t portray a stereotype. Even then, Yeun is not oblivious to the fact that many actors of color do not get the opportunity he did.

“I’m definitely not unaware of the fact that I’m Asian, and unaware of the fact that sometimes they will pigeon-hole you, or they will write you into specific situations or roles,” Yeun said. “I’ve been very fortunate to play a character that isn’t stereotypical, that gets to do a romantic lead.”

The controversy over the all-white list of acting nominees for this year’s Academy Awards, brought to light a far greater issue that plagues America today. The failure of the acting industry to represent the diversity of our country suggests that far too many minorities still find themselves being discriminated against by positions of power in society. In order for any visible changes to be made, we have to stop trying to label people by their ethnicities, and instead attempt to judge them by the weight of their characters.