ARTS: The Not-So-Easy Fix for the Oscars’ Lack of Diversity

The announcements of this year’s Oscar nominations has led to widespread criticism for their lack of diversity. It has gone far from un-noticed that this is the second consecutive year all 20 nominations in the acting categories are white.

All the while, some of this years most iconic and diverse performances have been snubbed. Creed, which has received critical acclaim, saw director Ryan Coogler and leading actor Michael B. Jordan ignored for nominations. However, the film did see some recognition as Sylvester Stallone has been nominated for his supporting role as Rocky Balboa. Other films to be overlooked by the Academy were; Beasts of No Nation, Straight Outta Compton and Concussion.

Nominations have taken a back-seat to this years Oscar’s hype. Instead, headlines surround Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith’s decision to boycott this year’s awards, and one would expect there will be more names to follow. Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs released a statement saying she too is “heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion” around this year’s awards. This year’s nominations may seem unrepresentative of this years array of talent, simply reflecting the lack of inclusion that spreads throughout the industry.

Steve McQueen made Oscar history when he became the first black director to win an Academy Award for 12 Years A Slave. This was back in 2013, and since the hope of more recognition for minorities has been sadly demolished.

Although the success of 12 Years A Slave may have suggested progression for the Academy, a report by the BFI into diversity indicates a less positive viewpoint. “5.3% of the film production workforce, 3.4% of the film distribution workforce and 4.5% of the film exhibition workforce were from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.” Revealing that a lack of diversity occurs throughout the industry, queries have been raised about how diverse the industry is at its core. It also brings into question how accurate films can be that claim to be diverse and tackle issues relating to minorities when there are a very specific assembly of creatives deciding what is shown and how.

In short, the unyielding issues of diversity are much larger than the Academy Awards. The heightened publicity around awards season offers a prominent public platform in order to raise these important issues of diversity. But a change in the Academy seems far off. Reports into the Oscar voters show “nearly 94% are Caucasian and 77% male. Black members make up about 2% of the Academy, and Latino members less than 2%.” In 2012, the median age of voters was 62, with only 14% being younger than 50. Although in her statement Isaacs gives reassurance that “the Academy is taking dramatic steps to alter the makeup of our membership,” the current procedure to change the monotony of the Academy isn’t that straightforward.

Firstly, to become a member you must be working in the industry. Then each of the 17 different branches of the Academy for various aspects, from actors to public relations, have their own specifications. For example “to be considered for invitation to membership” through the branch of acting, an individual requires at least three theatrical feature film credits and/or have been nominated for an Oscar in the acting categories. Which from the statistics of minorities working in the industry and the lack of diverse nominations, it seems a far off reality with procedures the way they stand.

Acknowledging that “change is not coming as fast as we would like” a call for to do “more, and better and more quickly” is a much needed look at how the membership stands. Concluding her statement, Isaacs assures those concerned that this year, “the mandate is inclusion in all of its facets: gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation.” However, these words should echo across the whole industry. Inclusion should start from the industries vast workforce and see its way through to the Oscars. This means the Oscars will still be able to act as a prestigious platform for recognition and praise of the most deserving.

By Louise Conway

The Verse Staff

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