Why the Oscars are So White

Published: 28 January 2016

Region: Worldwide

Oscar_CeremonyJust as the American Film Academy announced “substantive changes” after widespread criticism over the lack of diversity, the French Academy published its list of nominations which looks very different than the one that came out from Hollywood. In the competition for the French Awards – César, there is a visible inclusion of women and minorities. For example, three out of seven nominated directors are women, while there is none in the Oscars. Not only ethnic minorities, but foreign-language movies are well represented. It is reported that two movies nominated for nine César Awards each, aren’t shot in French.

Why are the Oscars not inclusive? The Media Diversity Institute (MDI) joined the debate that was initiated when the Academy in four acting categories did not nominate a single Black, Hispanic, Asian or any other performer who is not white.

Firstly actress Jada Pinkett Smith said she would boycott this year’s ceremony. Then director Spike Lee joined the boycott.  Although many agreed that more diversity and changes at the Academy Award are needed, some, like this year’s nominee Charlotte Rampling, thought that the whole Oscars diversity row is ‘racist to whites’. “We can never know if it was really the case, but perhaps the black actors did not deserve to be in the final straight,” said Rampling who later said she “regrets that her comments could have been misinterpreted”.

Oscars_Chris_RockBut the whole debate made the Academy introducing changes amongst its members who are more than 90% white and more than 70% male. Changes include a commitment to double the number of women and ethnic minority members by 2020.

Media Diversity Institute (MDI) warned that there is a need for systematic changes and better inclusion of minorities of any kind, not only in the film industry and theatre, but in the media globally.

MDI Communications officer Dasha Ilic, interviewed by the Turkish radio and Television Corporation (TRT), said that the nomination of exclusively white actors and actresses for the Oscars is the symptom of a much wider problem, deeply rooted in our society. “Exclusion of others, exclusion of women, ethnic, sexual or any kind of minorities, has been persistent. We should look for the reasons in the structure of the Board of Oscars which is predominantly white and male,” said Ilic.

Far from being a brand new issue, MDI  discussed the Oscars nomination in 2015 too. In the article “Another White Oscar nominee…”, MDI reported figures showing systematic predominance of white people.

“The problem of lack of diversity lies with faceless decision-makers, whose business practices and choices reinforce outmoded values and champion storytelling that does not adequately represent an increasingly multicultural America,” writes film writer Jeremy Kay in the Guardian.