#OscarsSoWhite: A Closer Look
by Rachel Auslander
The Oscars draw our attention every year. Not because of the prestigious awards, glamorous red carpet, or tremendous amount of celebrities in one place. Rather, the Oscars, or Academy Awards, are a commentary on racial and gender injustice in the film industry. All 20 acting nominees, both in 2015 and 2016, were/are white, sparking the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite and prompting many to boycott the event.
TV shows and movies already have a number of racial and gender problems: women have few lead roles and barely any speaking lines (less than 30% of characters with speaking lines are female), and people of color are often portrayed as stereotypes or the “token friend”. These problems are brought to light once the Academy Board picks its nominees of the year.
How is a film judged, anyway? If everyone has different preferences, what truly makes the “best picture”? A qualitative opinion can’t be reflected fairly from the start. Add in unconscious (or sometimes conscious) racial and gender biases, and voila: very few women and people of color are featured in any category.
There is no shortage of talented, diverse actors in Hollywood. There also is no lack of diverse composers, directors, and filmographers. Women, people of color, LGBTQIA+, and even a mix of the three are looking for work. However, they are consistently not hired, often because the people doing the hiring are old, white men. Older people are generally more set in their ways and grew up in a time of greater racial prejudice and stricter gender roles.
Many of the issues with the Oscars apply to literally every other field. Talent exists, but isn’t recognized due to race, gender, or sexuality. This needs to change, because it’s 2016 and what America looks like on screen isn’t what it looks like in reality.
Entertainment is a huge element of American culture, so it should reflect the Americans who watch it. The media and entertainment industries vastly influence the attitudes and ideologies of everyone: they hold immense power. We need an Academy Awards board comprised of diverse people. Currently, the board is 77% male and 94% white. Yes, the president of the board, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, is a black female, but she doesn’t make decisions alone and is vastly influenced by the majority.
Membership in this “elite” group is by invitation only, and board members must have been nominated for the Oscars or be sponsored by existing members. If people of color and women are not recognized in the future for their work at the Oscars, and current position holders do not attempt to diversify the board, the composition will never change.
These racial and gender issues have been recognized for the past two years at the Oscars due to its prominence, but last year, the issue faded away as soon as the winners gave their acceptance speeches. This year, let’s hold Hollywood, as well as all industries, accountable for racial and gender biases until these problems are fixed.