I think it’s safe to say that 2016 wasn’t one of the Academy’s greatest years. In large part due to the whole #OscarsSoWhite controversy that overshadowed much of last year’s proceedings. There were many opinions flying around about how and why it all started and I’ll clear them up now. No it wasn’t started by Jada Pinkett and no it wasn’t a response to that year’s field in particular; it was an 87 year build up of frustration that finally reached it’s boiling point and spilled out into the public consciousness. Whether you believe these claims of bias had grounds to stand on or not, it’s hard to argue against facts and numbers. Up until that point, outside of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Slumdog Millionaire, the number of films with primarily non-white casts to get nominated for Best Picture, let alone win, was pretty much nonexistent, and in it’s entire 87 year history only 20 actors of minority had ever won an award in any of the major acting categories.
Times have definitely changed and progress has been made, but it’s still lagging drastically behind the general viewing public.
I acknowledge that times were different in the Oscars’ earlier years, bias and prejudice weren’t an ugly, hidden secret, they were an everyday fact of life. Hell, the first black woman to win an Oscar, Hattie McDaniel, wasn’t even allowed to sit with her co-stars at the ceremony. Times have definitely changed and progress has been made, but it’s still lagging drastically behind the general viewing public. There is an argument to be made that there simply aren’t enough good minority driven films and roles to warrant an increase in recognition, and that’s partially true. But in 2016 you had major, critically lauded releases from Concussion, Creed, Straight Outta Compton, and Beasts of No Nation, and they all got snubbed. I can somewhat understand Concussion and Straight Outta Compton, the former being good but not great and the latter being in the wrong genre, even though it was one of the biggest releases of the year. But for Creed to only get one nomination and it be for Sylvester Stallone (How Sway???) and for Beasts of No Nation to be completely left out was frankly abhorrent. It’s easy to see why so many feel left out.
Perception is everything
Whether the bias is unintentional or not, is not important. What’s important is that there’s a perception that there is one, and perception is everything, especially for an Academy that claims to be all about inclusiveness.
Whether the bias is unintentional or not, is not important. What’s important is that there’s a perception that there is one, and perception is everything, especially for an Academy that claims to be all about inclusiveness. The Academy and it’s members are always at the forefront and vocal leaders when it comes to being socially conscious and aware, but for far too long, their actions haven’t lived up to their words.
Then this year’s Oscars nomination arrived, dropped in their laps down from the heavens with the most diverse list of nominations the Oscars has ever had. A record 7 minority actors received a nomination, at least one in every major acting category, and 4 films with primarily non-white casts were nominated for Best Picture. From the drubbing they took in 2016 to this…it was almost like it was too good to be true…
My knee jerk reaction was to go the cynical route and think this was a concerted, manufactured effort done by the Academy in response to #OscarsSoWhite. But I don’t think that’s true. I think it was just lucky coincidence that this past year had one of the strongest collections of minority driven releases that I can ever remember seeing. With the exception of Hidden Figures none of these movies or actors’ nominations surprised me. However, that’s not to say that last year’s outcry didn’t have some sort effect on voters. Consciously or subconsciously, last year’s outcry had to be in the back of their minds, and whether that influenced the way in which they voted or not, only they can say.
…hopefully one day there won’t be any need for outcry, because our films will truly be art imitating life and the world around us.
This year’s Oscars was a significant win for diversity in film, but not just because of the trophies and the recognition, but because it proved to producers and Hollywood execs everywhere that these “non-traditional” films and casts can compete and succeed at the highest levels. So that hopefully one day there won’t be any need for outcry, because our films will truly be art imitating life and the world around us.
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