Another White Oscar Nominee…

Published: 29 January 2015

Country: US

OscarsAnd the nominees are: White Person, White Person, White Person, White Person, and finally, White Person’. This is one of many tweets responding to the all-white Oscar nominees at the Academy Awards this year. The Awards caused outrage on various social media platforms, where civil society expressed their frustration regarding the lack of diversity in all categories by starting #OscarsSoWhite.

Quickly, social media users criticised the Oscar’s for being a “white boys club”, publishing statistics reflecting the homogeneity of both the nominees and the voters. According to Media Diversified, in the last 85 years of the Oscars, nominated producers were 98% white, writers were 98% white, actors were 88% white, actresses were 88% white and directors were 99% male. The voters are 94% white and 77% male.

Many particularly criticized the Academy’s disregard of Ava DuVernay’s film “Selma”, a historical drama about the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches, arguing that the film was wrongly ‘snubbed’ by the Academy. Taking a look back at previous nominees of colour, their film plots and their acting roles sheds light onto issues that go far beyond the ‘snub’ of this particular movie screening an essential point in African-American history.

In an article on BET, the author remembers Nominees of Colour who have succeeded in Hollywood, revealing racist patterns in the valuation process of actors and films. The article gives answers to the questions: Which Actors of Colour have been nominated for which roles? Which films have received recognition by the Academy?

The author’s list consists of the following African-American women:  “Whoopi Goldberg (phony psychic), Halle Berry (abusive mother), Octavia Spencer (maid), Mo’Nique (abusive mother), Hattie McDaniel (maid) and Lupita Nyong’o (slave).” He further notices that although “African-American men have won several Oscars, not one Black actor has won an Oscar when portraying one of the four most famous Black men in recent history: Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela or Muhammad Ali. Those black roles aren’t rewarded”.

In her article in the Guardian, Bidisha poses the right questions in light of the role of People of Colour in Hollywood: “Victims and villains: that’s what we get? That is, when we get anything, when we’re visible at all. Is that what Hollywood thinks we are: capable of playing raped and beaten slaves, people in pain who deserve pity. But it doesn’t think we’re capable of writing, directing, editing, scoring or producing films?”

“Selma” is of such great importance in this context, as it successfully breaks this cycle of discriminatory representation of Black lives. Black female film director Ava DuVernay succeeds in presenting a counter-hegemonic perspective.

NBC News as well as Media Diversified note that the film refrains from using a white saviour, thereby setting itself apart from productions such as  “The Help,” “Lincoln,” “Glory,” “The Blind Side,” “Crash” and even “12 Years a Slave. Media Diversified praises the film, as it “[…] portrays King as a politically savvy and masterful strategist. Instead of a Christ figure, King is a three-dimensional character who is flawed and insecure—a man who is concerned about his image in his community and constantly aware of his own limitations”. It is a film that celebrates Black self-agency and resistance, which cannot possibly be detached from the #BlackLivesMatter movement that emerged after the recent killings of African-American males Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner. Salon writes: “Among black teenagers who have actualy felt the pain of the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis and Michael Brown, this film offers a long history and genealogy for black pain and black resistance”.

Media Diversified reports: “Not since the 1989 summer release of Spike Lee’s ‘Do The Right Thing’ and death of Yusef Hawkins has a film’s release been so relevant as ‘Selma’ in terms of grand jury decisions to not indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown and New York police officers Daniel Pantaleo and Justin Damico in the death of Eric Garner. The parallels between the Ferguson protests and scenes of Selma marchers being met with teargas and protesters beaten by police are so apparent. This alongside a poignant scene of police shooting to death unarmed Jimmie Lee Jackson is clearly reminiscent of the shooting of Michael Brown”.

Coming back to the Academy Awards disregarding this film, it becomes very clear that this ‘snub’ is much more than an under-appreciation of a masterpiece on Black resistance.  “It represents an open rejection of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, a big middle finger to black people in America and the rest of the world”, reports Al Jazeera America.

If there is one positive outcome of this year’s nominations, it is the public outrage on social media, which might reflect an increasing awareness when it comes to racism in the United States.  It was civil society’s engagement through social media that got mainstream media outlets all around the world to cover the story.