When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences revealed their nominations for the 2016 Oscars, outrage ensued. For the second year in a row, all twenty nominees chosen for the top four acting categories were white.
Concerned with the lack of diversity in the Academy Award nominations, April Reign, an editor at BroadwayBlack.com and NU Tribe magazine, started #OscarsSoWhite on Twitter – a phenomenon that quickly surged in popularity and documented people’s anger across the nation. As a result, many prominent actors decided to boycott the Oscars this year, including honorary Oscar recipient and director Spike Lee, actor Will Smith, and actress Jada Pinkett Smith. Ironically, the host of the program was African-American comedian Chris Rock, who utilized most of his opening monologue to critique the Academy.
Throughout Ridge, the reception to #OscarsSoWhite has been mixed. Some students agree with the sentiment, while others are more conflicted. For example, Eric Tung ‘19 feels that “there were definitely some actors that should have won an Oscar, such as Will Smith for his part in the heartbreaking film Concussion, but there is enough diversity for the Academy to not only select white actors. There might still be some years where all the nominees are all white, but it will hopefully be as rare as Leonardo DiCaprio’s Oscar.”
That nominations for the Oscars this year greatly lacked diversity was unsurprising considering the Academy’s demographic makeup and its history of choosing Oscar winners. The Los Angeles Times concluded that, of the Academy’s 5,765 members, 94% of its members are white and 77% are men. African-Americans make up only 2% of the Academy while Latinos make up less than 2%. Throughout the Academy’s lengthy history, only 14 African-Americans, 5 Latinos, 3 Asian-Americans, and 1 Native American have taken home an Oscar for acting. No Latina or Asian actress has won an Oscar in over 50 years.
Unfortunately, the absence of diversity in the Academy reflects the lack of representation that minorities have in the entertainment industry. According to a study by the University of Southern California, out of the top 100 films of 2014, only one-quarter of their characters were minorities. Of these films, just 17 had leads or co-leads that were portrayed by minority actors.
Minority directors are underrepresented in Hollywood as well. Of the 779 directors for the top 700 films between 2007-2014, only 45 were African-American and only 19 were Asian or Asian-American. Shivani Pillalamarri ‘17 notes that “there are few Asian actors or actresses in the industry – the only Indian actors I know are Aziz Ansari and Mindy Kaling! It’s always been hard for minorities to get high up the ladder.” Despite this, many have spoken out about the industry’s lack of diversity. Director Alejandro Iñárritu and actresses Lupita Nyong’o and Viola Davis have all advocated for increased diversity.
Women are also extremely inadequately represented in Hollywood. Of the top 100 films of 2014, only 21 films had female leads or co-leads; only 3 of these 21 actresses were from minorities. Behind the camera, only 18.9% of these films had female producers, 11.2% had female writers, and 1.9% had female directors.
A significant pay gap between men and women in Hollywood also persists in Hollywood. In an essay titled, “Why Do I Make Less Than My Male Co-Stars?” actress Jennifer Lawrence revealed many of her first-hand accounts with sexism in the entertainment industry, such as notably receiving a lower salary than her male co-stars in American Hustle. Actresses Patricia Arquette, Geena Davis, Reese Witherspoon, and countless others have repeatedly taken a stance on the inequality that women face in entertainment. Emma Watson has utilized her star-power to campaign for the HeForShe initiative started by UN Women, the United Nations division devoted to women, and promote gender equality all over the world.
If one thing is clear in Hollywood, it is that diversity reform is imperative. Actors and directors often serve as role models to children. If Hollywood remains dominated by white males, who will inspire young children of different molds? Movies and TV shows are some of the earliest forms of entertainment children are exposed to; if the only characters they see on screen are white and male, Hollywood promotes the message that only a white male can succeed. This is definitely not the case, but unless the industry changes, the message will persist.