Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Lack of Diversity in Oscar Nominations In Spotlight Again, Ignites Calls for Boycott


The current uproar vibrating in the film industry echoes last year's furor: the list of Oscars nominees for this year, as it was last year, is lacking in diversity. This lack of diversity in the 2016 Oscar Awards nominations has also ignited calls for a boycott of the awards ceremony next month, by black entertatiners.

An infograph shared by Entertainment Weekly shows the diversity makeup of the 2016 Oscars nominees: 95.3% White; 2.3% Asian and Hispanic/Latino. African Americans are not represented.

This controversy comes at the heel of the recent Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a national holiday in honor of America's foremost Civil Rights activist and hero, who fought for racial equality through his non-violent resistance movement in the 1950's to until his life was cut short by an assassin's bullet.

Significant Voices of Discontent
Spike Lee, Hollywood black director, producer, actor and writer, criticized the Oscars nominations for being too white two years in a row, and called for affirmative action to address the problem of racial diversity in Hollywood. He was earlier reported as planning to boycott the awards ceremony, but later reports quoted him as saying he never used the word “boycott.” Lee sent his message to the Academy via his Instagram account where he wrote he would not be attending the Oscar Awards cerremony, for neither he nor his wife “cannot support the lily white” awards show.

Nevertheless, his criticism over the non-inclusion of colored actors in this year's nominations, just as it was last year, was shared by other Hollywood celebrities as well.

Stars who have lent their voices against the lack of diversity in the Oscars nominations are high-profile celebrities, including actress Jada Pinkett Smith, who said through her video message on Facebook she would not be attending nor watching the ceremony. She made the announcement on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Jada's actor husband Will Smith who had been expected to win a nomination for his role in the film “Concussion” did not get any.

Actor George Clooney likewise joined in the discussion and said there was more diversity 10 years ago with many more African Americans nominated and “I don't think it's a problem of who you're picking as much as it is how many options are available to minorities in film, particularly in quality films."

Lupita Nyong'o, who made history as the 2013 Academy Award Best Supporting Actress, said she was “disappointed by the lack of inclusion in this year's Academy Awards nominations. […] I stand with my peers who are calling for change in expanding the stories that are told and recognition of the people
who tell them."

Producer of Straight Outta Compton, Will Parker, weighed in through his Facebook post, saying the lack of diversity was “embarrasing.” The Rev. Al Sharpton wanted Americans to “tune out” the Awards next month.

Academy Response
Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the Academy's first African American, and third woman president, said she too was “heartbroken and frustrated' at the nominations' lack of diversity this year and pledged to work on the Academy's diversity issue. While expressing sadness over the lack of inclusion of people of color among the nominees, Isaacs acknowledged the “extraordinary achievements” of those nominated.

Isaacs vowed they in the Academy will “conduct a review of our membership recruitment in order to bring about much-needed diversity in our 2016 class and beyond.” In her lengthy statement in response to the nominations controversy, Isaacs compared the period in the 60's and 70's when “it was about recruiting younger members to stay vital and relevant. In 2016, the mandate is inclusion in all of its facets: gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation.”

Diversity in the Academy Membership
The profile of Academy members is deemed mostly white and male, although under the leadership of Boone Isaacs, efforts to increase diversity have been noted, such as inviting for membership a greater number of people who could help in the diversity initiative of the Academy. Invitations were given in 2015 to women, foreign-born artists and people of various races, ethnic backgrounds and ages, according to the Variety. This is most important in diversifying the Academy's membership, as most Academy members have voting rights for the Awards.

Based on a profile study made of Academy members in 2012, 94% of the voting body was White, 77% of the voters were male, and only a dismal 2% made up the Black members. As many observe, it is the membership make-up of the Academy, and to a greater extent, the make-up of Hollywood itself that influences the Oscar Award nominations' diversity, or lack of it.

Credit should be given to Boone Isaacs for her diversity push, but others are still yearning for more tangible results. The Academy, and so with the entire Hollywood, its diversity should reflect the nation.

Hollywood Beset with Lack of Diversity
Job opportunities for women, minorities in front of and behind the scenes, have long been identified as dismal. In a recent study by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, only little progress was noted regarding the gender make-up of Hollywood directors, writers, producers, editors and cinematographers, with an increase that only matched that in 2001. Women did not have as much challenge in 2015 being producers as struggling to be directors and cinematographers, the study found too. In general, only 19% of women held top jobs behind-the-scenes in 2015.

Another study, the 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report, by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, which analyzed the bottomline in the American film industry covering the period 2012-13, shows minorities still underrrepresented in many Hollywood jobs despite having posted some gains. They posted small to modest gains according to this study.

As the country's population continues to become more diverse, minorities – who comprised 40% of the population in 2013 – are expeced to become the majority. From lead roles to film directors, writers and other behind-the-scenes- jobs, minorities were outnumbered.

One significant finding of the study is film and TV shows that reflect the nation's ethnic and racial diversity were more likely to become successful at the box-office. It concludes by saying there is a “disconnect” between the still prevalent marginalization of women and minorities in Hollywood and what the growing diverse American audiences want – to see more diverse content; as it says: “diversity sells.” Yet, part of the problem could be in the conflict of interests between individual stakeholders, mostly white and male, and institutional interests. It is not a simple problem to fix, but one solution, among many, seen by the researchers is for guilds to “increase access and professional development for minorities and women.”

The Challenge: More Action, Less Talk
With today's diversity issue plaguing the industry due to racial underrepresentation, the Academy is called upon to install more action. Some suggest a change in the membership system of the Academy, or in the balloting system; the call for a boycott is a divisive issue as well as not every black entertainer agree with it, and some have remained silent about the matter.

The bottomline: efforts for diversity and inclusion should continue to be in the limelight. Films have strong influence on culture; films are not only for entertainment, but are also excellent tools or resource for teaching values, such as diversity and inclusion.

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