Four years ago, I remember watching the Oscars ceremony with the hopeful inspiration that fills many filmmakers as they watch the awards show. However, there was one disappointing fact staring me in the face the entire time of the show – only one black woman was nominated for an award, and it happened to be that of a maid (Octavia Spencer for Best Supporting Actress in The Help). After the ceremony ended, I also found out that there have only been two black females who have won for Best Lead Actress, and only four black women have won Best Supporting Actress. On the other side of gender, only two black men have won Best Actor, while three black actors have won Best Supporting Actor (Denzel being in both categories, which brings the total actually to four). These depressing statistics gave me the motivation to try and become a writer/director/producer who will create movies with more diverse roles that are taken more seriously and considered for an Oscar nomination and potential win.
But people saw a different way.
This year, the #oscarssowhite tag has been dominating much of the discussion of the Academy Awards. People want to boycott and refuse to attend the ceremony of this event because of the lack of diverse nominees. The only hitch with this situation is here, the Academy isn’t the real problem. The issue that should be receiving the anger is why are there so few Oscar worthy movies starring people of color.
We all know what kind of movies tend to make it into the Oscar’s – dramas with deeply serious subjects and large theatrical releases that everyday people haven’t actually seen. Yes they’re probably really good, but why watch that when you can catch that new comedy or that other one with the millions of annoying little merchandise that goes along with it?
So why aren’t there more movies of a higher caliber starring people of color? There are thousands of stories that can be brought the screen (a biopic of Marsha P. Johnson anyone?) that could easily be Oscar worthy. But these movies often seem to balk at the idea of having lead people of color.
Now one solution that was used to confront this was trying an alternative release format – Netflix. Beasts of No Nation received critical acclaim, yet was still snubbed. Now it may take the Academy some time to get used to accepting movies released almost exclusively on a digital format (and limited theatrical release). But once this method of distribution becomes more of the norm, it could potentially be another vehicle to present diverse voices and faces that convey stories with such depth that it would be hard to ignore their importance.
But that’s probably going to be a ways into the future, and the problem is the now. Studios and Casting Directors still believe there’s only one formula for a successful movie. They push these formulas year after year, blocking out voices that have a different approach to the way people can be portrayed.
Yes we can berate the Oscar’s all day about their lack of diversity until we all become blue people. But the fact of the matter is there isn’t a pool of movies that they can select from. When you look towards the theaters, and what is making money, studios will keep choosing safe bets over what they perceive as risky in casting a minority in a lead role. So what should we actually be doing? Maybe putting that energy into boycotting movies that actually could have employed minority actors but chose to whitewash history (which has been an oddly popular trend targeting Ancient Egyptian culture). Or maybe not focusing on the product of the problem and instead going to the root of it. If people could collectively come together over social media and pressure the Academy Awards, why can’t this same union come together to tackle the actual problem?
Now in all honesty I alone do not know how to accomplish this. But this problem of exclusion is on a scale that needs to be addressed in the property manner. Besides, it’s a better use of time than moaning about a show that only comes on once a year.