It would seem that Hollywood and the film industry have come a long way since 1963, when Sidney Poitier became the the first ever African-American to win an Academy Award for Best Actor in “Lilies of the Field.”
When the 2016 list of Oscar nominations was published, the public criticized the Academy for neglecting to include actors of color for the second consecutive year. Manohlia Dargis, Wesley Morris and A. O. Scott explain in the “New York Times,” “Movies about black lives like “Creed” and “Straight Outta Compton” did receive recognition, but their nominations were for either white writers (‘Compton’) or a white performer (Sylvester Stallone in ‘Creed’). The black directors of each movie along with their nonwhite actors were shut out.”
The “New York Times” reported that, “This year’s nominations led Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith to announce on Martin Luther King’s Birthday that they would not be attending the ceremony.”
Many believe that the film industry has made significant progress in creating films that acknowledge minority groups and recognizing the casts and creatives for their achievements. However, a vast majority of the public is not satisfied with the Academy’s recent exclusion of minority groups, with regard to actors, subject, and production team.
Sidney Poitier was only the first of a number of famous African American actors to win Academy Awards for Best Actor and Actress, including Denzel Washington in 2001 for “Training Day,” Halle Berry in 2001 for “Monster’s Ball,” Jamie Foxx in 2004 for “Ray” and Forest Whitaker in 2006 for “The Last King of Scotland.”
Furthermore, there are many African American actors and actresses of color nominated for awards in these categories, including James Earl Jones, Morgan Freeman, Will Smith, Terrence Howard, Diana Ross, Whoopi Goldberg, Gabourey Sidibe, Viola Davis and Quvenzhané Wallis, the youngest performer to ever be nominated for Best Actress in 2012 for “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”
The performers listed are merely a sampling of African Americans recognized by the Academy’s Best Actor and Actress category with awards from Poitier in 1963 and nominations Dorothy Dandridge in 1954 for “Carmen Jones.”
There are many more actors, actresses, writers, producers, designers, directors, producers and films that have received nominations and ultimately awards for their work.
That being said the number of minority performers and creatives recognized is significantly less than the number of Caucasian performers and creatives honored.
Why, then, does this discrepancy continue? It would certainly be wrong to say that the United States merely lacks talented, innovative, hard working minority performers and creatives.
Many would agree that the Academy is not the sole authority on talent and success in the film industry.
A vast majority maintains that Leonardo DiCaprio has been cheated by the Academy on five different occasions in the categories Best Supporting Actor, Best Actor and Best Picture.
While this controversy certainly presents a less serious issue, it does reveal the degree to which American moviegoers often times disagree with the Academy’s final results.
Because the nominees and winners are determined through multiple rounds of voting where members of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences make selections from the list of films eligible for victory in designated categories.
In 2012, John Horn of the Los Angeles Times reported that, “Oscar voters are nearly 94% Caucasian and 77% male” and “have a median age of 62.”
The group of individuals eligible to vote for the nominees and winners of Academy Awards is not an accurate sampling of the diverse American public.
Although a solid majority of publicity that this controversy has received in the media has focused on the absence of African American actors, actresses, directors, writers, designers and films from this year’s Oscar ballot, other minority groups are also missing from the list of nominees.
This year’s ballot is not terribly diverse, excluding performers and creatives of other races and ethnicities in addition to African Americans.
As Wesley Morris points out, “There’s obviously a serious problem with regard to race, sexuality and gender in Hollywood. But it doesn’t begin or end with the 6,000 or so members of the Academy.”
Some critics are of the mindset that the Academy has not wrongfully excluded minority films because there simply were not that many this past year.
Perhaps the film industry is still failing to produce pieces about minorities that feature minority performers?
While there has certainly been progress with regards to diversity in Hollywood, there is still work to be done.
Instead of relying solely on the Academy to honor minority performers and creatives, perhaps the American public should start recognizing its own power to praise its diverse community of creators and artists.