Diversity in Oscar nods requires diversity in the film industry
As a cinephile, occasional movie blogger and African-American woman, I have watched the fervor over #OscarsSoWhite unfold with great interest. I will keep my comments brief because they are not much different from what many have already eloquently expressed. The reason I feel compelled to weigh in at all is because I don’t think my view on it has been expressed enough.
My initial reaction when this year’s Oscar nominations were announced was not shock or even disappointment. Although I have not seen all of the potentially nominated performances and films, there were no movies that I had seen from black filmmakers or featuring black actors and actresses that I thought were unfairly left out of the running. There were movies and performers I thought could have been nominated, such as Spike Lee’s “Chi-raq,” F. Gary Gray’s “Straight Outta Compton,” Idris Elba for “Beasts of No Nation” and Will Smith for “Concussion.” But considering the films and performances that were nominated in the relevant categories, I didn’t see any that I thought deserved to be bumped in favor of anything else – black or white.
As far as I’m concerned, the hashtag rallying cry should be #HollywoodSoWhite or #thefilmindustrysowhite because that is where the problem lies. I have no interest in seeing films that do not deserve to be nominated get nominations just because they have a black cast or crew. What we need are more quality films produced, directed and cast with people of color so that Oscar voters have to recognize them. Granted, a predominantly older white male pool of voters will not necessarily see the attributes of these films, which is why it is imperative that the Academy leadership makes efforts to diversify its voting body as they are doing. But of course, those diversification efforts will not be enough if there are not enough Oscar worthy movies featuring people of color.
So what I want to see is more opportunities for black actors and actresses to work with the best directors in the business – directors who are perennially putting out quality work. I want to see more opportunities for talented black filmmakers and screenwriters to get their projects made with the production budgets they need to make them successful. As Viola Davis so poignantly shared at the 2015 Emmy Awards, you can’t win awards for performances you never get to give. And you can’t win awards for films that never get made. If a part is not color-specific, why not offer it to the best actor or actress for the job regardless of skin color. From Denzel Washington in “The Pelican Brief” and "Much Ado about Nothing" to Thandi Newton in "Mission Impossible II" to Chiwetal Ejiofor in "The Martian" (where I was also happy to see some Latin representation with Michael Pena) and Adepero Oduye in "The Big Short," there's no reason not to present the world as it really is with diverse casting.
I am heartened by the inroads that we've made. I am thrilled to see filmmakers like Steve McQueen, Ava Duvernay and Lee Daniels making incredible movies that tell the stories of all people, not just African-Americans, in the same way that Ang Lee helms movies about all types of people, not just people of his culture. So the overriding goal should be that more African-Americans be given more opportunities to tell all types of stories in the film industry. At that point, the Academy will be inundated with great work to nominate, and we will see a more diverse group of nominees.
To provide some perspective, below is a list of all the African-American Oscar winners since the Academy started presenting its awards.
AFRICAN-AMERICAN OSCAR WINNERS
- Hattie McDaniel – Best Actress, “Gone with the Wind” (1939)
- Sidney Poitier – Best Actor, “Lillies of the Field” (1963)
- Isaac Hayes – Best Song (Theme from Shaft), “Shaft” (1971)
- Lou Gossett Jr. – Best Supporting Actor, “An Officer and a Gentleman” (1982)
- Irene Cara – Best Song (Flashdance … What A Feeling), “Flashdance” (1983)
- Prince – Best Original Music Score, “Purple Rain” (1984)
- Stevie Wonder – Best Song (I Just Called to Say I Love You), “The Woman in Red” (1984)
- Lionel Richie – Best Song (Say You, Say Me), “White Nights” (1985)
- Herbie Hancock – Best Original Music Score, “Round Midnight” (1986)
- Willie D. Burton – Best Sound, “Bird” (1988)
- Denzel Washington – Best Supporting Actor, “Glory” (1989)
- Russell Williams – Best Sound, “Glory” (1989)
- Whoopi Goldberg – Best Supporting Actress, “Ghost” (1990)
- Russell Williams – Best Sound, “Dances with Wolves” (1990)
- Cuba Gooding Jr. – Best Supporting Actor, “Jerry Maguire” (1996)
- Halle Berry – Best Actress, “Monster’s Ball” (2001)
- Denzel Washington – Best Actor, “Training Day” (2001)
- Jamie Foxx – Best Actor, “Ray” (2004)
- Morgan Freeman – Best Supporting Actor, “Million Dollar Baby” (2004)
- Juicy J, Frayser Boy, DJ Paul – Best Song, “Hustle & Flow” (2005)
- Forest Whitaker – Best Actor, “The Last King of Scotland” (2006)
- Jennifer Hudson – Best Supporting Actress, “Dreamgirls” (2006)
- Willie D. Burton – Best Sound, “Dreamgirls” (2006)
- Mo’Nique – Best Supporting Actress, “Precious” (2009)
- Geoffrey Fletcher – Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay, “Precious” (2009)
- Roger Ross Williams – Best Documentary Short Subject, “Music by Prudence” (2009)
- Octavia Spencer – Best Supporting Actress, “The Help” (2011)
- T.J. Martin (director) – Best Documentary, “Undefeated” (2012)
- Lupita Nyong’o – Best Supporting Actress, “12 Years a Slave” (2013)
- Steve McQueen (producer) – Best Picture, “12 Years a Slave” (2013)
- John Ridley – Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay, “12 Years a Slave” (2013)
- Common and John Legend – Best Song (Selma), “Selma” (2014)