Was criticism over the lack of diversity in this year’s Oscar nominations justified?

The 2015 Oscar nominations saw no female directors, screenwriters or cinematographers nominated, nor a single person of colour. Following widespread condemnation of the awards, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first African-American president of the academy, stated that she ‘would like to see more diversity’ in the nominations. In light of this, The Gryphon asks: was the criticism of the nominations justified?

YES

Ruby Lott-Lavigna

There are a lot of white dudes potentially winning things at the Oscars this year. For Best Picture, of the eight nominated films, all have male leads, and 7/8 of those are white male leads. In the Best Leading Actor category, all five nominated are white men. For Best Director, every single one is a white man, nominated for directing a film with five white male leads. Not a single person of colour has been nominated for Best Leading Actor, and not a single woman or person of colour for Best Director.

Here are some potential answers to this strange homogeneity, one that fails to reflect in any way the demographic of the western world. 1. That there’s something innate in white men that makes them better at directing or acting. 2. It’s just luck. Or, not-racist-option-number-three: there must be social structures that make it easier for white men to do well in the film industry.

Unlike the BAFTAs, where former winners are able to vote (which doesn’t entirely solve the problem if the majority of winners are still white and male) the Oscars are voted for by the Academy, hence the alternate name, the Academy Awards. It comes as no surprise when looking at the nominees, that the Academy are disproportionately, white, male and old. Stats released in 2007 showed that of the whole Academy, 94% are white, 77% are men and 54% were over the age of 60.

Yes, Matthew McConaughey was pretty good in ‘Dallas Buyers Club’, but he forgot to thank his ‘white male straight cis privilege’ in his Best Actor acceptance speech

Now I don’t want to imply old white men are more likely to be racist or sexist, but I think that old white men are more likely to be sexist and racist. Until Kathryn Bigelow won the Oscar for best director in 2008, not a single woman had won the Best Director award. That means, and I’ll quote the film critic Mark Kermode here, “for the first eighty-something years of the academy, they had decided that every single best film, in every single year, had been directed by a man.” It isn’t just pure luck or innate talent that mean white men are coming on top at the Oscars, it’s a clear representation of how closed off the film industry is to artists who don’t fit the standard mould.

It’s understandable why people often struggle, or resist recognizing this. If there are subtle forces at work that allow some people to succeed and other to fail, then those people succeeding can’t be held completely responsible for their own success. Yes, Matthew McConaughey was pretty good in ‘Dallas Buyers Club’, but he forgot to thank his ‘white male straight cis privilege’ in his Best Actor acceptance speech. This applies to all of us, not just the southern and cheek-boned.

The President of the Academy Cheryl Boone Isaacs spoke out on the issue, saying that more diversity within the nominations was needed
The President of the Academy Cheryl Boone Isaacs spoke out on the issue, saying that more diversity within the nominations was needed

People hate the idea that they’ve had help achieving something just because of a characteristic or circumstance they can’t control. It’s tough to come to terms with that reality, but acknowledging the privilege we have, noticing it and pointing it out is the only way we’ll start to combat how unfair it is. No one wants to admit they’ve had help, but we kid ourselves if we think the world throws equal challenges at people. Just like in life, everyone doesn’t have equal footing. When white men have dominated the film industry, it’s a lot easier for other white men to succeed.

Any film fan should notice the problem with this. If we’re only reaching a small number of the population when it comes to film making, then clearly we’re reducing the pool we collect talent from. Imagine the films that could have been produced if the film industry was more accessible to potential great artists. We have a responsibility to recognise this inequality within the industry, and to demand a change. Otherwise, we’ll just be stuck with more films of white dudes doing white things.

 

No

Jasmin Vincent 

The Oscars is a chance to celebrate the very best in film. From actors to directors, musical scores to animation, and everything in between, the Oscars are without doubt one of the biggest and most celebrated award ceremony in the world. So it is no surprise that it is under constant scrutiny to make sure that it has a diverse collection of nominations, and the right nominations too. It is why this year there has been uproar over the lack of diversity in the nominations. Granted, it is a shame to see that it is mostly white male dominated, but have we not gone past that stage of accusing it of being deliberately racist?

The sole purpose of the Oscars is to celebrate the talent we have on our screens and give the chance for all those in the film industry to be recognized for that talent. So shouldn’t the people who have earned it this past year be recognized? With the likes of Eddie Redmayne and Benedict Cumberbatch amongst the nominations for Best Actor, you cannot deny their sheer talent in their fantastic depictions of two great historical icons, Stephen Hawking and Alan Turing.  You have to give it to them; they deserve the nomination.

It is not all about whether you are white, black, female or male; it is about talent and hard work.

Then there’s the directing with the likes of Wes Anderson for ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ and Richard Linklater for ‘Boyhood’. You know what’s the common theme here? Talent. Not because they are white males. What has happened this year is that the best actors, screenplay, directors happens to have been done by white males.

With all the accusations of ‘racist’ and ‘sexist’ being thrown around, it is quite easy to accuse the Oscars for their lack of diversity. But when the Oscars is about awarding for talent, what do you do? Make it so there is equal racial diversity but those who really deserve it don’t get a chance because of skin colour? Or do you actually nominate the people who actually earned it this year?

Last year, ’12 Years a Slave’ did incredibly well and deservedly so. It was a phenomenal film and was made clear by that with all the Oscars it won. Even so it was concerning when Ellen DeGeneres opened the show with the joke: “Possibility number one: ’12 Years a Slave’ wins best picture,” DeGeneres said. “Possibility number two: You’re all racists.” Fair enough if it did not win then there would have been a serious issue. But not because of the racial diversity, but because of the talent and the fact it deserved to win. All the nominations this year deserve to win. Face it: it is not all about whether you are white, black, female or male; it is about talent and hard work.

 

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