By Marc H. Morial
“The Academy has a problem. It’s a problem that needs to be solved … For 20 opportunities to celebrate actors of color, actresses of color, to be missed last year is one thing; for that to happen again this year is unforgivable. This institution doesn’t reflect its president … I am an Academy member and it doesn’t reflect me, and it doesn’t reflect this nation.”
– David Oyelowo, Actor, January 2016
It turns out that Hollywood does, in fact, love a sequel.
For the second straight year in a row, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences – the organization behind Hollywood’s biggest and splashiest awards show – failed to nominate a single actor or actress of color in the lead and supporting acting categories. This year, when pay equity and gender equality were as much a Hollywood narrative as anything screened in local movie theaters, women earned more Oscar nominations (up almost 24 percent versus 21 percent in each of the last two years), but they were shut out from the best cinematography and best director categories – again. In a nation as diverse as ours, an Oscars ceremony that neither recognizes nor includes the vast artistic talent and contributions of women and people of color is a white-washed fiction that would better serve us as the premise of a sci-fi feature and not as a mirror of our multicultural reality.
While my role is not to question the cinematic credentials of the academy’s 6,291 voting members, I do question how it is that in a season that produced critically-acclaimed films such as “Beasts of No Nation,” which stars Idris Elba as an African warlord; the N.W.A. biopic “Straight Outta Compton;” and “Creed,” the latest installment in the iconic “Rocky” franchise, there were no Black screenwriters, directors, composers, cinematographers or actors to be found whose contributions deserved academy recognition. Ironically enough, two films helmed by either Black actors and/or directors – “Creed” and “Compton” – were recognized by the academy, but their sole nominations were denied to people of color, with Sylvester Stallone receiving a best supporting actor nod for his role in “Creed” and writers of “Compton” receiving a nomination for best original screenplay.
A lot of ink has been spilled citing the composition of the academy and its role in travesties like this year’s copycat lock out of talent from communities of color. A much-cited 2012 survey of the academy by the Los Angeles Times highlights the crux of the problem: the academy’s members are 94 percent white, 77 percent male, and an average age of 63 – hardly representative of the diversity we see in the streets and increasingly on our TV screens. There was a push for more inclusion after last year’s infamous snub of the civil rights movie “Selma,” with a record 322 invitations sent to join the academy. The list of invitees included fewer than 20 new African-American members, close to 14 Asian and Pacific Islander members and a handful of Latin Americans, according to “The Wrap,” an industry-insider magazine. Here are a few more statistics you should also take into consideration. In its most recent study, the Bunche Center at UCLA found that film studio heads were 94 percent white and all male and that film studio senior management was 92 percent white and 83 percent male. The problem is two-fold.
The struggle to transform the academy into a diverse body that thoughtfully contemplates and recognizes the work of communities who do not fit the cookie cutter mold is one that must take place within the academy, but change will remain elusive if there is no transformation of white male dominated studio system that decides what gets made – and perhaps most importantly, what doesn’t get made. Major studios are not greenlighting the projects that reflect our nation and the few movies that are produced end up on the cutting room floor of the nomination process.
Like so many others, I am scandalized by the shut out of people of color across most major awards categories for the second consecutive year. I will continue to add my voice to the public scrutiny necessary to keep this issue on Hollywood’s front burner. And I will also be doing something else this year: I will not be watching the Oscars. I am not an Academy Award member. I do not green-light films, nor do I direct them. But I do control what does – or doesn’t – appear on my television screen. If we want Hollywood to tune in to our legitimate concerns and issues, I, for one, will be tuning out.