Several notable black individuals in the world of Hollywood filmmaking have come out in protest against the 88th Academy Awards this upcoming February. Director Spike Lee will not be attending this year due to the fact that all 20 actors and actresses that have been nominated this year are white.
“We cannot support it and [I] mean no disrespect to my friends, host Chris Rock and producer Reggie Hudlin, president [Cheryl Boone] Isaacs and the Academy,” Lee wrote. “But, how is it possible for the second consecutive year all 20 contenders under the acting category are white? And let’s not even get into the other branches. Forty white actors in two years and no flava at all. We can’t act?! WTF!!”
All of this has started to build up during the celebrations of America’s foremost black figure: Martin Luther King, Jr.
The frustration is undeniably understandable. For a body that includes some of the most vocal, liberal minds in the country, the list of nominees is downright hypocritical. While the all-white list would indicate a lack of diversity of acting leads, the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA has indicated that the ratio of white to minority leads is 2 to 1. Albeit, not equal, but not unequal to the point of zero inclusion.
To me, that leaves two explanations for why the nominee list was released in the form we see today:
ONE, the Academy nominators did not feel that any minority actors or actresses were stronger than the current white nominees.
This is the toughest one to swallow for most casual moviegoers. How dare I imply that minority actors and actresses are not as talented as their white counterparts, right?
Not so fast.
Let’s first acknowledge that most of you reading this are not professionals in the world of filmmaking (myself included). Your knowledge of 2015’s film releases extends as far as about 10-20 movies, 5 of them being Star Wars: The Force Awakens. (Okay, maybe not five times, but you get the idea.) Ultimately, there are a great deal of on-screen performances that we are simply not exposed to.
There is surprisingly (or not surprisingly) little information from the official Oscar website on how each nominee comes to fruition, but they do reveal one very important factoid: actors nominate actors. The Academy is not made up of a bunch of wannabe film critics like many of us assume. The best in the business are nominated by the people most qualified to nominate.
“But Hunter, aren’t most of the members white?”
Yes. One look at the Board of Governors might make you feel as though you are looking at the roster for the 1956 Board of Governors. Yet, it’s important to take a closer look. The acting branch of the Academy is headed by the following: Ed Begley Jr., Annette Bening, and Tom Hanks. These white individuals should be not assumed racists.
For example, Begley Jr. has done notable work in deconstructing racism with Racism Watch 2004, and organization which acted as a whistleblower on active racism, including attacks on the Bush administration.
The nominators know what they are doing, because they’ve been doing it throughout their entire careers.
TWO, minority actors and actresses were not given the opportunity to showcase their artistic talents appropriately.
This, to me, is what should truly be the focus of the nation’s frustrations. I have chosen to highlight this particular argument by slamming one of my favorite actors to slam: Matt Damon.
Damon was nominated for Best Actor for The Martian. If you haven’t seen The Martian, you are not missing much. Go read the book instead.
The film follows the trials and tribulations of Mark Watney as he attempts to survive on Mars in isolation. The movie really only serves as a justification for Damon’s palpable narcissism.
Morever, Damon has been a darling of the Academy since his 1997 win with Good Will Hunting. He and Ben Affleck seem to be able to have their way with the movie industry.
Did the lead role of The Martian have to go to a white actor? No. Were there minority actors in leading roles that should have been nominated over Damon? Perhaps. (Most people have been scratching their heads over the absence of a nomination for either Idris Elba or Will Smith.)
Had a minority actor been given the chance to star in The Martian – a blockbuster film – perhaps we would see a different nominee face on this year’s list.
Ultimately, I am not saying it is wrong to be angry or frustrated with an all-white nominee field, but do not aim your frustrations at the Academy. Apply your frustrations towards the lack of opportunity available to minority actors and actresses. Apply your frustration towards the fact that many actors and actresses are white because they were the only ones able to afford a Juilliard education.
Don’t discredit the achievements of the nominees because of your own frustrations with a much broader issue.