The nominations for the 2016 Academy Awards were announced on Jan. 14 and for the second year in a row, people of color received zero nominations in the acting categories. Social media quickly reacted to this glaring lack of diversity, bringing back the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, and big-name stars such as Will Smith, Jada Pinkett-Smith and Spike Lee announced that they would be boycotting the ceremony in protest.
On Jan. 21, the Academy responded to the backlash by approving a series of changes designed to make the nomination process, and the Academy as a whole, more diverse. These changes include establishing three new seats on the Board of Governors, and making it so that members who have not worked in the film industry for over ten years will be granted “emeritus status” and will no longer be able to vote for the Oscars, ensuring that new voices will be heard in the Academy. These measures, which will not affect voting for this year’s awards, were implemented to help the Academy reach its goal of “doubling the number of women and diverse members of the Academy by 2020.”
While changing the Academy’s membership policies is a move in the right direction, the Editorial Board believes the race problem in the movie industry goes deeper than whatever snubs may have happened in this year’s nominations. Before claiming her comments were misconstrued, Charlotte Rampling, a nominee in this year’s best actress category, declared that the controversy over representation in the Oscars is “racist against whites.” Oscar-winning actor Sir Michael Caine advised black actors to “be patient” because it had taken him “years to get an Oscar.”
But these comments are missing the root of the issue. No, Charlotte Rampling, an Oscar boycott is not racist against white people. And no, Michael Caine, the solution to the diversity problem is not to ask black people to simply wait their turn.
The issue is that mainstream media as a whole is not doing enough to provide substantial roles for people of color. Last year, Viola Davis became the first black woman in history to win an Emmy for best actress in a drama, and in her powerful acceptance speech, she explained the limitations facing minorities in the media.
“The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity,” Davis said. “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”
And often, the few minority roles that are available are given to white actors. Sir Ben Kingsley won an Oscar for his role as Gandhi and Cameron Crowe caused much controversy when he cast Emma Stone to play a half-Asian character in Aloha.
It is important that roles for people of color exist because representation in the media matters. A child should be able to watch a movie or TV show and see people that represent them–actors and actresses they can relate to.
The Editorial Board urges actors and filmmakers to make movies that provide more opportunities for people of color, to be brave enough to tell narratives that reflect the diverse landscape of our world today.