The Academy Awards: Hollywood’s brightest or its whitest?


By Kaanan Raja

When the Academy Award nominations were released a week ago, my eyes gazed the screen looking for Ava DuVernay, who would have been the first African-American woman nominated for Best Director, or David Oyelowo, who I thought would be a shoo-in after his portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr. in “Selma.”

However, after scanning the list several times, I noticed that not only were these African-American candidates missing, but that none of the non-white candidates that were considered to be probable nominees had made the list — the entire list of nominated actors and actresses consisted of almost all white nominees.

This is not the first time the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hasn’t recognized minority artists. In fact, only four women have ever been nominated for Best Director. That’s even fewer than the number of women who have traveled to space.

When this year’s list contained no non-white actors or actresses, the Academy continued its tradition of letting the public count, on one hand, the number of Asian-American actors who have ever been nominated for Best Actor or Actress.

I can’t help but feel that the hopes for aspiring Asian-American, Latino, African-American and other non-white aspiring actors and filmmakers could be diminishing. The dwindling recognition that is given to actors and actresses of color reflects, to me and other multiracial groups especially, that when we don’t show recognition for deserving artists, their stories are not as significant, and neither are the people or stories they represent.

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That is a pain all minority groups can feel, including the students of this campus.

With the continuing lack of diversity, many people, including me, were disappointed, but, sadly, not shocked at this year’s nominations.

While the Academy Awards have never really had the bar set too high on diverse nominations, this year’s omission of people of color and women has not gone unnoticed. In fact, the public presented so much backlash that the Twitter hashtag “#OscarsSoWhite” was trending worldwide.

Despite the saddening lack of surprise, this year’s nominations should be considered especially gruesome.

It’s thought to be “the whitest Oscar nominees since 1995.”

While our country is supposed to be progressing, our nominations show that they do not reflect the multiracial audience members that make up our theatres. Instead, these nominations reflect injustice and prejudice that still live in our current society.

The characters who live on our television and movie screens — the ones we laugh, cry and connect with — have a profound impact on who we become. This is why representation in mainstream media matters.

As a non-white female, it’s hard to find Asian-American actresses and filmmakers I can look up and aspire to, especially when the Academy nominee list consists of a majority of white names each year.

What makes matters even worse is that the very people that should be including more diverse nominations are not diverse at all.

According to a released study by the LA Times, 94 percent of Academy members are white, 2 percent are black, less than 2 percent are Latino and 77 percent are male.

Furthermore, the Academy’s existing members are the ones who recruit their successors. Therefore, new members predictably come from overwhelmingly white, male networks and then follow that path, only spiraling the lack of representation within the nominees.

Essentially, the racial and gender composition of the Academy members are overwhelmingly monochromatic. This poses a dangerous threat to those who are underrepresented minorities: both artists and audience members alike.

The Academy Awards convey recognition of artistry in the highest form for millions to tune into each year. It’s incredibly uplifting to see little boys and girls dream of becoming the next Ang Lee or Lupita Nyong’o; they should know that it’s possible for someone who is non-white to achieve the same dreams that gossamer white actors and actresses have long since achieved.

When we do not recognize or give tribute to those who are regularly oppressed, we inadvertently state that the problems and narratives of those characters and the audience they represent are seemingly unimportant.

Especially with the current racial tension within the country regarding Ferguson and Garner, the Academy’s exclusion of a movie that depicts the racially-based struggles of black lives worsens the ongoing tensions and does not seem to support the country’s chant that #BlackLivesMatter, or even other non-white actors.

While the prejudice within the nominations is expansive and even subconscious, I think it can be overcome with a little awareness and acceptance, both on the Academy’s part and the public’s. The movies and people representing me and other minority groups are succeeding and being praised by other outlets — the Academy just needs to start recognizing them, too.

Until this is accomplished, the Academy Awards won’t truly represent Hollywood’s most talented, aspiring and bright actors — just simply its white actors.

Kaanan is a freshman in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected].