This year, which marks the 50th anniversary of the Selma marches and the Voting Rights Act, the Oscars will air on Feb. 22 , and they are sadly lacking in ethnic diversity.
Although the film “Selma” was nominated for best picture, David Oyelowo, who played Martin Luther King, Jr. in the film, was not nominated for best leading actor. The film’s director, Ava DuVernay, was not nominated for best director.
Best picture is “Selma’s” only nomination. It received no nominations for the actors, the writers, the director, the music, the cinematography or the makeup and hair. What exactly did they think was best about the film?
The last time a film won an Oscar by being nominated for best picture and nothing else was “Grand Hotel” in 1932, according to MTV News, so it is not likely that “Selma” will win at all.
It may not seem like such a big deal with last year’s awards for “12 Years a Slave,” but a few major black films wining awards here and there is not enough.
According to a 2014 Hollywood diversity report by the department of African American Studies at UCLA, no minority-directed films won an Oscar in 2011, 91 percent of award-winning films had white male directors, and 100 percent of the winning films had white lead actors.
“Diversity is smart for business,” said Dr. Brandon Gamble, a California State University, Long Beach assistant professor of advanced studies in education and counseling. “Black people have one trillion dollars in buying power. Why not ensure that the stories, production efforts, and actors are recognized, as well as supported by the academy so they can lock in a consumer based?”
It should not come as a surprise that 94 percent of Oscar voters are Caucasian and 77 percent are male, according to the LA Times.
Winning an Oscar is extremely significant for film industry careers. It means getting more work and funding for ideas, which leads to more time in the public eye. This, in turn, leads to more career success.
If diverse films are not represented equally at the Oscars and other film awards, minority film industry workers cannot possibly have an equal chance at success.
Because Black people and other minority groups do not have an equal chance at success, U.S. citizens and peoples all over the world are unable to see an accurate picture of the world in which they live. They may think Lupita Nyong’o amazing acting as Patsey in “12 Years a Slave” or Ava DuVernay’s phenomenal directing in “Selma” are first time occurrences.
“When confronted with abysmal diversity numbers, industry decision makers often resort to the “small pool” argument as a justification for the situation: “There is a shortage of diverse talent out there,” according to the Hollywood diversity report. “Meanwhile, the lack of diversity in how the industry celebrates excellence works to reinforce this idea.”
The media and the mostly white Academy members have a responsibility to represent minorities equally because they have the awesome power to decide what movies people should watch, which film careers are worth propelling into greatness and essentially what people should talk and think about.
“In America, we too often want to fit conversations into liberal or conservative, black or white, gay or straight, fat or skinny, etc.” Gamble said. “These are all binaries that promote a myopic and disingenuous view of the lives that Americans live.”
Los Angeles is still the epicenter for film and television production, and that means the people right here – the student, interns, workers and academy members – have the most power to change the status quo.
“Los Angeles accounted for 59 percent of [television] series locations, followed by New York City (15 percent), Vancouver (4 percent) and 19 remaining series locations scattered across North America (22 percent),” according to the Hollywood diversity report.
So to start with, instead of watching the all-white Oscars during Black History Month, go to the PBS website and watch any of the 30 freely streaming videos such as “Through a Lens Darkly,” a documentary about the evolution of African-American photography, or “American Denial,” a film about the cultural biases in a country that thinks it is post-racism, but in actuality, is not.
Racism is still a pervasive and debilitating problem in this country.
“The racist may not be as overt and active, but you can look at their dirty work in the incarceration rates, the shooting of unarmed people and the unequal funding of schools,” Gamble said.