The Oscar Nominations this year heralded yet another year of whitewashing by The Academy. With no actors of color being nominated in the Best Actor, Best Actress or Supporting categories, and no films with leading actors of color nominated for Best Picture, the willful lack of diversity in the annual Hollywood circle jerk is shameful. In a sea of white faces, Mexican Director Alejandro Inarritu was the only nominee of color for his work on The Revenant (and yet no women were nominated in this category, which is a problem of its own). Predictable as it is in an industry that favors a white, cis male perspective, one would hope that our culture has progressed to the point where all experiences are of equal value.
That’s not to say there aren’t actors, directors, writers, or any other talented movie industry professionals of color that aren’t up to Oscar standards. There most certainly are. This year, actors John Boyega (Star Wars:The Force Awakens), Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina), Benicio Del Toro (Sicario), Idris Elba (Beasts Of No Nation), Michael B. Jordan (Creed), Chiwetel Ejiofor (The Martian) Samuel L. Jackson (The Hateful 8) and Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton) all gave Oscar-worthy performances. Meanwhile, F. Gary Gray, who directed Straight Outta Compton (which, notoriously written by two white people, has been nominated for Best Original Screenplay) and Ryan Coogler who directed Creed (which Sylvester Stallone is nominated and heaped with praise for) both deserve nods. Perhaps the most heinous part of this is that all these movies (Beasts Of No Nation excepted, likely because The Academy isn't ready to accept Netflix Originals, no matter how critically acclaimed they are) received nominations this year—just not for the people of color that helped make them so brilliant.
To give some perspective: In the 87 years of annual Oscars, only 18 black men have been nominated for Best Actor. Of these, only four have won. It’s worse in the Best Actress category, with only nine nominations and one win, by Halle Berry in 2001. In the Supporting categories, 14 men have been nominated with four wins, with 19 female nominees and only six wins. It gets bleaker. Only three black directors have ever been nominated for an Oscar.
It’s no better for people of hispanic descent, with nine nominations for Best Actor (with one win), seven nominations for Best Actress (with no wins), nine nominations for Best Supporting Actor (with four wins), 12 Best Supporting Actress nominations (with three wins), and a dismal five Directors nominated with two wins. Meanwhile, for Asian actors, it's a non-starter, with only three nominations (Ben Kingsley twice—and he's only half indian) in the Best Actor category (and two wins), one nomination for Best Actress (with no wins), six nominations and one win respectively in each Supporting category and six nominations (three of those being Ang Lee) and two wins (again, both to Ang Lee) for Best Director.
Journalist Derrick Clifton, speaking to me on Twitter, says that POC are still seen as an abstract “other” in cinema, especially when they don’t fit into neat, white expectations. “Cinema that centers black experiences that aren't subservient or stereotype get seen as 'niche' or 'subpar,'" he writes.
“Cinema that centers black experiences that aren't subservient or stereotype get seen as 'niche' or 'subpar.'"
Indeed, movies that pander to white sensibilities of racism (that essentially show sympathy to the white racist or mythologize the mystical POC), like Driving Miss Daisy and Crash (which have both won Best Picture in the past), seem to be the only movies that include POC that The Academy is interested in. Even Quentin Tarantino, a white guy, was noticeably (and most likely deliberately) snubbed both for Screenplay and Directing on Hateful 8, I’m guessing, at least in part, for his unsympathetic portrayal of racist whites and brutal, vengeful violence against them. His last feature film, Django Unchained, was also a revenge film against racist white history, and was nominated, winning for Best Supporting Actor (Christoph Waltz) and Best Original Screenplay. The only difference between Django and Hateful 8 that I can discern is that in the end of the former, a white man (Waltz) was the sympathetic hero, rendering Django's portrayal of whites in a racist landscape more palatable to Academy voters. Meanwhile, it's leading black actors—Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington and Samuel L. Jackson—were all snubbed from nomination.
It’s time to start getting mad about things like this, if you're not already. Since DOMA passed, it’s clear that The Academy has taken queer perspectives into consideration, with nods to Carol and The Danish Girl filling that quota this year. However, whitewashing is still very much an issue, and one that needn’t be in an industry filled with many talented POC. It would be an easy assumption to brush off the lists of white names based on merit, but historically, this would be an unfair absolvement of injustice. Hollywood has a race problem. Allowing so many award show snubs to pass by, unchecked, when there are so many people of color worthy of being awarded betrays a deep seated, sinister and deliberate bias we shouldn’t stand for.