Yet Another Disappointing Sequel: #OscarsStillSoWhite
It’s no secret that Hollywood has an obsession with sequels, but will the industry ever learn that sequels never quite compare to the originals? Cue the buttered popcorn and put on your 3D glasses, because much to the dismay of avid movie enthusiasts, #OscarsSoWhite is being followed up with #OscarsStillSoWhite as the issue of diversity represented at the Oscars resurfaces.
For the second consecutive year, people of color have been noticeably excluded from receiving Oscar nominations from the Academy. In categories for “Best Actor” and “Best Actress,” all forty nominees in the past two years have been white. Many believe that the cast of Straight Outta Compton, Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation, Michael B. Jordan in Selma and Will Smith in Concussion, all well-deserving actors worthy of recognition from the Academy, were snubbed. Other categories didn’t fare so well either in terms of representation, with the stories of people of color only being recognized for the work of the white people involved in its productions, such as Creed for “Best Supporting Actor” and Straight Outta Compton for “Best Screenplay.”
"The exclusion of people of color from the film industry assumes that only the voices of white people matter. With so much white saturation in the media, the public fails to hear stories from people of color, which contributes to the normalization of whiteness and actively discourages people of color as they are otherized."
Rotten Tomatoes Thrown at the Academy
The reviews for this sequel aren’t looking too pleasant. The Academy has since received a fair amount of backlash with the trending #OscarsSoWhite and #OscarsStillSoWhite on Twitter, international media coverage, and actors and artists of color in the movie industry openly boycotting the awards ceremony. The overwhelming amount of criticism aimed at the Academy has recently compelled Cheryl Boone Isaac, President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, to speak out against the lack of diversity represented in the Academy (again) and announce major steps taking place in order to ensure a more inclusive institution.
We shouldn’t be too surprised. Comprised of an older demographic that is 76% male and 93% white, the Academy is likely to appreciate certain projects more than others. As a result, recognized films are skewed in favor towards those featuring storylines with white, male protagonists over the narratives of people of color. Since the conception of the Academy in 1929, only 12 African Americans have won an Oscar for acting, most often for supporting roles subservient to whites. In all of the Academy Awards’ 87 years, Halle Berry remains the first and only African American winner for best actress. Regarding all categories, African Americans have found themselves as the curator of the precious Academy Award only 31 times out of over 2,900 winners.
Revealing a Major Flaw in Hollywood
The lack of diversity is not just reflected in the Academy’s demographic or its nominees, but the entirety of Hollywood. In an op-ed for The Hollywood Reporter, Chris Rock bluntly stated that the movie business is a “white industry.” This is clearly demonstrated in the lack of roles for people of color: According to a study done by the USC’s Annenberg for Communication and Journalism, of the 100 top-grossing films of 2012, a little over 75% of all speaking roles are white, leaving a staggering 25% for minority groups with 10.8% Black, 4.2% Hispanic, 5% Asian, and 3.6% who identify with other or mixed ethnicities. Observed over a 5-year sample, these trends remain consistent with little standard deviation.
In addition, of the small fraction of roles actually meant for people of color, white individuals are often casted for those roles. White-washing has remained prevalent in the movie industry, as clearly demonstrated in the casting of Emma Stone in the 2015 American romantic-comedy Aloha as Allison Ng, an Asian and Pacific Islander character a quarter Chinese and a quarter Hawaiian. Problematic casting extended beyond the role of Allison Ng as the rest of the main cast featured exclusively white characters, quite unusual for Hawaii with the largest Asian, Pacific Islander and multiracial population in the United States and a meager white populace. Aloha is a great example of yet another story about white people while using native culture and its people merely as an exotic backdrop.
Fighting Towards More Representation on the Big Screen
The exclusion of people of color from the film industry assumes that only the voices of white people matter. With so much white saturation in the media, the public fails to hear stories from people of color, which contributes to the normalization of whiteness and actively discourages people of color as they are otherized. The less representation people of color get on the big screen, the less relatable these characters are to the general population, closing off possible avenues of self-acceptance and inspiration.
Serious discussions about this underrepresentation of people of color in Hollywood are crucial to bring forth diversity on the big screen. From tweets in ALL CAPS on Twitter to renowned performers boycotting the awards ceremony, the lack of diversity in the media has been made an issue brought to the forefront of acknowledgement. It is no coincidence that the active conversations online have sparked attention from the President of the Academy herself, with intentions to implement changes aimed toward diversifying the Academy’s membership. Thus, we should take it upon ourselves to openly discuss these issues, knowing that we can be drivers of change.