Every year, The Academy Awards of Arts and Science hosts one of the most prestigious awards ceremonies of the year. Before the presentation of the awards, however, the nominations are voted on and chosen by the Academy’s members; previous nominees, directors or anyone in the industry who has had a profound impact in their field of work. While the Academy doesn’t disclose details about their members, a survey conducted in 2007 highlighting the demographics of the Academy, revealed that 94% of the voting members are white, and over 50% are over the age of 60. While this may be just a result of veneration or experience from old age playing a role in their acceptance of members, there has been concern for bias disrupting the awards.
The previous two years, there have been no black nominations for best actor or actress. This is reason for concern. While there are significantly fewer black actors in Hollywood, two years in a row of no nominations may be a result of possible bias. It may not be as severe as the media is portraying it – as blatant racism – but rather a lack of modern awareness. The fact that over half of the voters are over the age of 60 gives the impression that the Academy is more fixated on the previous standards of movies and are not adjusting to the rising generation of African American actors and movies.
A specific movie in question was 2015’s “Straight Outta Compton.” Directed by Felix Gary Gray, this biopic following the Compton-based rap group, NWA was regarded as one of the top films of the year. Winning the AFI Movie of the Year Award a few weeks before the Academy’s announcements, a nomination for best picture was more or less expected. Yet, the Academy chose not to give the film a nomination.
The Academy might not have been intentionally “racist” with their decision to leave out “Straight Outta Compton,” rather being more inclined to nominate a more “mature” film due to their older demographics. The academy may be “out of touch” with their majority 60+ age, so the voters may be less inclined to consider a movie as ostentatious as “Straight Outta Compton.” This lack of contemporary representation in the Academy’s choices is also evident with the streaming-only film “Beasts of No Nation”. While receiving Golden Globe Nominations as well as other awards given for outstanding acting performances, the Academy appears to have ignored the modern, stream-only film. After the second year of celebrity push back, the Academy may need to consider expanding the demographics of their members.
#OscarsSoWhite? With two straight years of no black nominees for best actor or actress along with “Straight Outta Compton” not receiving a nomination, there is reason for concern.
True, there is not enough diversity in film, but can you blame the Oscars? The simple answer is no, we cannot. The Oscars controversy is merely a symptom of an underlying condition. Some firebrands (I’m looking at you Spike Lee) would have you believe that the Academy Awards singlehandedly created the institutionalized racism that has proliferated in the entertainment industry for decades. On the contrary, the Oscars have merely reflected a lack of diversity which should have been all too plain to see.
The main contention that must be tackled is that for two years running there have been no people of color nominated for any acting category. Detractors of the Oscars are fond of pointing out specific examples to prove the awards show’s worthlessness. The titles oft repeated are “Creed,” “Straight Outta Compton,” “Beasts of No Nation,” “Concussion,” and, curiously enough, last year’s contender “Selma.”
First, no disrespect to “Creed,” but the Academy holds neither sports films nor sequels in the highest regard. Many like to point out Sylvester Stallone’s nomination as complete garbage, but they have to realize that the Oscars are an extremely political operation. Stallone has clearly been putting time in behind the scenes to make this happen as evidenced by his astounding Golden Globe win. His nod should be seen as more of a lifetime achievement award than an actual measure of his merit. This is similar to when Al Pacino won Best Actor for “Scent of a Woman” or Denzel Washington won Best Actor for “Training Day.” Sure, these were lesser movies in their respective catalogues, but the timing was right.
Similar logic applies to “Straight Outta Compton.” Oscar voters much prefer drama to music. As for “Beasts of No Nation,” its lack of nominations can probably be attributed to the Oscars hesitance to support streaming platforms. Its lifeblood runs in theaters, and they want to keep it that way. Also, the film had a fairly low profile compared to heavy hitters like “The Revenant.” Perhaps the most famous boycotter is Will Smith of “Concussion,” which is considerably hard for him to defend given how lukewarm a reception the movie received. With both a disappointing box-office cume and indifferent critical opinion at best, “Concussion” is nowhere near Oscar material. Finally, the problem of “Selma” endures. This film is brandished as the ultimate defense of the validity of an Oscars boycott. Why, oh why, was “Selma” snubbed for best director and best actor? I’ll tell you why. “Selma” wasn’t that good. It’s unpopular to say, but it’s nonsense to disregard a movie’s faults simply because of its subject matter.
Much of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy has been fueled by a mob mentality. Instead of focusing on the real problems of the lack of diversity in the entertainment industry, people have harped on and on about how the Academy voters’ opinions are wrong. It is the greatest case of misplaced anger towards the Oscars since “Crash” won Best Picture over “Brokeback Mountain.” Again, isn’t it enough that such great movies were made? Should you believe that the Oscars is a relentlessly racist institution, then you probably shouldn’t buy into the idea of awards shows at all.