Problems at the Oscars: Lack of Diversity at the Academy & Beyond

Last month I discussed my love for Star Wars: The Force Awakens along with problematic elements still present in the film franchise. To continue the conversation of diversity and film, I also wanted to bring additional attention to the current issue of the Academy Awards. This lack of diversity in Oscar nominations is clearly a concern, and this issue also connects to a problematic pattern within the film industry as a whole.

As you may have heard, after the second year of all-white nominations in major acting categories, many Hollywood elites and movie fans are understandably outraged. This frustration has led to social media movements like #OscarsSoWhite/#OscarsStillSoWhite (started by April Reign in 2015) and celebrities like Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee pledging to boycott the show. These types of frustrations are unfortunately not new, the following being but a few reminders of long-standing diversity concerns:

1.Sacheen Littlefeather refused Marlon Brando’s Oscar for The Godfather on his behalf due to the movie/TV industry’s treatment of Native Americans:

  1. While presenting at the 60th Academy Awards, Eddie Murphy describes almost turning down the job due to diversity issues:

  1. Viola Davis, first African-American woman to win an Emmy for actress (drama category), described in her acceptance speech: “the only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity”:

Davis’ clear critique of the lack of diversity within the film industry showcases the lack of opportunities for women, especially women of color. Although the TV industry has become increasingly diverse and successful, no one should have to leave film in order to be provided with roles worthy of their abilities. With roles and other jobs predominately being written for and given to white men, films do not display the diversity of our nation either on or behind the screen. While organizations such as Miss Representation and the Geena Davis Institution (as discussed last month) work to raise awareness and the incredible talent and skills of people of color remains clear (as well as the obvious success of films headed and starring people of color), many doors continue to stay closed.

These continuously glaring problems within the industry have led to reactions from elites of the industry as well as mainstream audiences and recent subsequent changes in the Academy. Frank Pallotta, in an article for CNN Money, reported that the Academy has recently created steps to “double the number of women and minority members by 2020.” Rebecca Keegan’s article in the Los Angeles Times describes more of the details set by Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, including Isaacs’ message: “We’ve been a more than predominantly white institution for a long time. We thought, we’ve got to change this and reflect the community much better.”

Aware of the conversations and the ineffectively slow pace of reform, the Academy board is pushing for more diversity among its members, working to increase membership to 14% minorities and 48% female while instating time limits to voting for those who are not active in film after 10 years unless they’ve been nominated for or won an Oscar. While this increase in recruitment will add diversity within the Academy itself, these changes will not impact voting, or the current 2016 Oscars. While some praise the quick and decisive actions of the board, others continue to be frustrated by steps that don’t seem like enough.

In light of all these issues, it might be easy to just give up on the film industry. Fans come from all over and include people with a variety of personalities, backgrounds, and interests. This diversity deserves to be reflected on screen: in blockbuster movies, indie films, TV shows, music videos, comics, video games, and more. As visibility and opportunities increase, so too should the numbers of women, especially women of color, involved throughout the film industry. As Director Ava DuVernay (Selma) stated: “shame is a helluva motivator.” As a fan, I have to acknowledge the shameful problems that exist within my beloved hobby, so I can try and make a difference. Whether it’s being vocal about reasons for boycotting, discussing the problems with representation during viewing parties, sharing articles in solidarity with these concerns, making choices at the box office supporting diverse films and filmmakers, and more, you too can advocate for diversity at the Oscars and beyond.


About Margaret Sloss Women's Center - ISU

The Margaret Sloss Women's Center promotes equity on the Iowa State University campus. Through a feminist lens, the center advocates for individuals and groups; provides support, referrals, community and programming; and maintains a safe space in the Sloss House.

Posted on February 12, 2016, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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