The Oscars, Race, and the Boycott. Where Do You Stand?


As with last year, the nominations for the 2016 Oscars have produced howls of derision and severe criticism from industry professionals due once again to what is considered the under representation of non-white actors.

This year, as in 2015, the 20 men and women nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor are all white as the nominations raise various talking points – not least of which is that of race.

Hollywood has notoriously been seen to favour white actors in the past, and in more recent times opposition to this has grown to the point where the Twitter hashtag, #OscarSoWhite, took hold in the Twitter-sphere in 2015. This was inspired by the lack of Oscar nominations for actor David Oyelowo and director Ava DuVernay for their work in ‘Selma’, the critically acclaimed Martin Luther King film.

Boycotts and criticisms

Director Spike Lee and actress Jada Pinkett Smith (wife of Will Smith) have pledged not to attend this year’s Oscars ceremony after their film, ‘Concussion’, was overlooked for any nominations.

Some white actors such as George Clooney are similarly disappointed about the perceived lack of diversity amongst nominations: “African Americans have a real fair point that the industry isn’t representing them well enough” he said recently.

Outspoken Oscar-winning film maker Michael Moore is set to join those boycotting this year’s ceremony, and civil rights activist and White House advisor Al Sharpton has called for “direct action” to redress the balance and described the current state of affairs in Hollywood as “fraudulent”.

Academy composition

Four years ago the Los Angeles Times analysed the composition of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences – a society for actors, directors and technical personnel in the film industry. The actual names of members is a closely guarded secret, but the newspaper discovered that of the approximately 6,000 members nearly 95% were white and over 75% were male.

The Academy has attempted to improve its diversity since; David Oyelowo himself was invited to join last year along with over 300 invitees including people of diverse ages, ethnic backgrounds and nationalities – and its president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, elected in 2013, is black.

The winds of change?

Boone Isaacs says the Academy is “committed to increasing the diversity of voices, opinions and experiences” and she’s been praised for her work in making the Academy more accurately reflect America. She admits “change is not coming as fast as we would like” and announced a five-year plan to involve the Academy and film studios working together to develop a policy of hiring from a larger reservoir of talent.

The problem here is that Hollywood and the movie making industry tends to move at a glacial pace, so radical changes take some time to play through.

Shocks and surprises

For the time being at least, it’s mainly white actors and films dominating the Oscars. While standing up for the quality of films nominated for the 2016 awards, Doone Isaacs tacitly admitted to being disappointed with the lack of diversity this year.

An example of the perceived lack of diversity is the nominations for ‘Creed,’ the rebooting of the ‘Rocky’ franchise. It received only one Oscar nomination for its one white actor, Sylvester Stallone.

‘Star Wars’ shows the way?

‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ – already one of the biggest-selling films of all time after its December 2015 release – has not only a black leading actor but a leading female, too. The idea that only white male leads can fill cinema seats is clearly a falsehood. For some this shows that it is not so much the industry that needs to change, but its awards process.


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