2016 has been a troublesome year for the Academy Awards. Since the nomination announcements in January, a media storm has arisen, launching criticism at the Oscar ceremony in an unprecedented manner, which could see massive changes occur within its internal structure.
The main dissatisfaction stems from the blatant lack of diversity amongst the nominees. Criticism has been fired at The Academy, with accusations of ‘whitewashing’ the industry. Even a derogatory hashtag, #OscarsSoWhite, has been circulating virally for weeks now.
It took no time for the upset to become public, with big-name stars threatening to boycott the ceremony. When the list of nominees is examined though, it’s hard to deny; that it’s a textbook group of pretty white people.
Global News were quick to highlight the obvious omissions:
Their choices, which notably omitted Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson of Creed, Will Smith and Gugu Mbatha-Raw of Concussion, Idris Elba and Abraham Attah for Beasts of No Nation, virtually the entire Straight Outta Compton cast and Benicio Del Toro for Sicario, gave the Academy an awkward repeat of the “#OscarsSoWhite” backlash that followed last year’s nominations. Even people nominated for movies like Straight Outta Compton and Creed are white.
As far as PR disasters go, this is a significantly disastrous one, but it wouldn’t be half as much of a problem is the exact same thing hadn’t happened last year as well! In fact, the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag was first introduced online in 2015, following an equally Caucasian nomination. Even 2014 inspired a series of infographics which display the inequality of the nominees of that particular year.
Much attention has been placed upon the body who run the Oscars, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters themselves, and critics have been quick to point out that there isn’t much in the way of diversity in those boardrooms either.
The idea that the Academy voters, which comprise largely of older, white males, are the best indication of achievements in cinema is one which is rapidly becoming outdated. The calibre and choice of films which have been sweeping the board recently have also raised questions as to the legitimacy of the event; whether the pomp and circumstance has outshone the central meaning of the whole affair.
There are also accusations of discrimination on other levels, even from the nominees themselves. In a lengthy and emotional Facebook post the former Antony & The Johnsons singer, now known as Anohni, is up for the Academy Award for Best Song and has expressed disgust at the way she has been treated in the run up to the event.
“I am the only transgendered performer ever to have been nominated for an Academy Award, and for that I thank the artists who nominated me,” writes Anohni, “I was in Asia when I found out the news. I rushed home to prepare something, in case the music nominees would be asked to perform. Everyone was calling with excited congratulations. A week later, Sam Smith, Lady Gaga and the Weeknd were rolled out as the evening’s entertainment with more performers “soon to be announced”. Confused, I sat and waited. Would someone be in touch? But as time bore on I heard nothing. I was besieged with people asking me if I was going to perform.”
Anohni’s excitement soon turned to concern when he realised that the phone was not going to ring, and that The Academy were not interested in having him perform. She discovered, through third party websites, that certain nominated musical artists had been omitted from the broadcast for time constraints. Several days later it was announced that Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters / Nirvana) had been subsequently scheduled to play, despite not being nominated for any awards.
The heartbreak continues throughout the eloquent post:
“As if to rub salt into the wound, the next morning the Oscars added that I was transgendered to the trivia page of their website.
I want to be clear — I know that I wasn’t excluded from the performance directly because I am transgendered. I was not invited to perform because I am relatively unknown in the U.S., singing a song about ecocide, and that might not sell advertising space. It is not me that is picking the performers for the night, and I know that I don’t have an automatic right to be asked.
But if you trace the trail of breadcrumbs, the deeper truth of it is impossible to ignore. Like global warming, it is not one isolated event, but a series of events that occur over years to create a system that has sought to undermine me, at first as a feminine child, and later as an androgynous transwoman. It is a system of social oppression and diminished opportunities for transpeople that has been employed by capitalism in the US to crush our dreams and our collective spirit.
I was told during my 20s and 30s there was no chance that someone like me could have a career in music, and this perspective was reiterated by so many industry “professionals” and media outlets that I lost count. I almost gave up. Thankfully, fellow artists like Lou Reed advocated for me so intensely that I got a foothold despite the worst intentions of others. In that sense, I am one of the luckiest people in the world.”
Anohni’s story is indicative of the personal effect such exclusions have on individual creatives and so it begs the question as to why exactly Hollywood, a town with a staunch reputation for being extremely politically correct, would continually display such aversion to artists of colour, international origin and the LGBT community?
The Academy has, however, reacted to the tirade of negativity, announcing that it is initiating a five year plan which will see an influx of female and multinational talent on the board by 2020, but is it too little too late?
It remains to be seen but, regardless, if the same thing happens again next year, there will be major ructions within the film industry.
Outspoken comedian Chris Rock, who wrote how Hollywood is ‘a white industry’ in a recent essay, has been announced as the host for the evening. One thing is for certain, and that is that he will have plenty to say on the subject once the proceedings get under way later today.
To conclude for now, here’s Colin Stokes with a prescient TED talk entitled ‘Why Is Hollywood So White?“. We’ll have more for you after the ceremony.