For the second year running, only white actors and actresses have been nominated for every major acting category in the Academy Awards. But this time around, people all over the country aren’t taking this lying down. Spreading like wildfire, the controversy has sparked national outrage and prompted numerous Hollywood stars, politicians, and even our own president to weigh in on the matter.
In an interview with Us Weekly Magazine, Matt Damon, a nominee, said “it’s shameful and embarrassing” that no black actors or actresses were nominated. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton chimed in in an interview with AOL, stating that “the Academy has to catch up with our reality.” Even our president, Barack Obama, told reporters at the White House that the movie industry should “provide opportunity to everybody.”
Naturally, those who disagree with the whitewashed Oscars have taken to social media to spread the word, prompting the creation of the popular Twitter hashtag #OscarsSoWhite as well as a boycott of the Oscars by stars like Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith.
And this phenomenon is nothing new. Over the Academy’s 88 year life span, the winners of these awards have always been hugely disproportionate in favor of white actors and actresses. In the entirety of the Awards’ history, there have been a total of four black, two Asian, and only one Hispanic best actor winners. And best actress has even less minority winners, with only one black woman, one Asian woman, and no Hispanics taking home the award. Every other winner has been white.
In the 2010 census, it was found that demographically, the United States is about 64% white, 16% Latino, and 12% black. So, if the system were unbiased, one would expect to see a similar distribution of winners in major acting categories. However this is not the case. Black people have only taken home 4% of the best actor trophies, and Latinos only 1%.
This imbalance stems from the Academy itself. The process for entry into the Academy is stacked against minorities. In order to even seek admission, one must not only have “demonstrated exceptional achievement in the field of theatrical motion pictures,” but also receive two sponsors from the current members. This creates a system where minorities are less likely to receive sponsorship than someone of the dominant race. In a recent survey by the Los Angeles Times of the 6,028 members of the Academy Award voters, it was found that 94% were white, 2% were black, and less than 2% were Latino. Obviously, these numbers are hugely disproportionate to the national racial spread, leading to the bias we see in movies and actors that are nominated.
“I think the Oscars debate is really just an expression of this broader issue of, are we making sure that everybody is getting a fair shot?” Obama said in the same White House interview.
In response to this controversy, the President brings to the surface the larger issue of race relations in the United States and the question that seems to be on everyone’s mind in recent years. Are minorities getting fair treatment in the United States? And with the Black Lives Matter movement still fresh in people’s minds, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences needed a way to save face with the public.
In response to this national outrage. the Oscars released a statement detailing their plan to take historic action “designed to make the Academy’s membership, its governing bodies, and its voting members significantly more diverse.” The Academy claims that they will be launching a new, global mission to seek out more diverse members to increase the variety of movies, actors, and actress nominated for their performance. Whether or not this campaign will come to fruition is yet to be seen.