I understand the outrage towards the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Hollywood’s record on diversity in film and television is seriously lacking. Producers segregate motion pictures by race, people of color face difficulty getting work and there continues to be a wage gap in the industry. Hollywood cares more about appearing progressive than increasing diversity. There is more than legitimate reason to be upset.
However, none of these things are the fault of the Academy, which has faced significant backlash from both the public and the film industry after failing to nominate any non-white actors for the second year in a row. In particular, people were upset about the snubbing of “Creed” and “Straight Outta Compton” for Best Picture and Acting, “Beasts of No Nation” for Best Supporting Actor and “Concussion” for Best Actor.
It’s not that I think that the lack of people of color nominated for an Oscar is okay. It isn’t. However, I don’t feel like it’s the Academy’s fault. The hashtag, as well as the proceeding boycott, appears to be far more concerned with the symptom than the cause.
The Academy Awards are not racist; at least, no more so than Hollywood in general. And Hollywood is no more racist than the American public. When people accuse the film industry of racism or sexism or homophobia, it serves as a means by which we seek to absolve society. I pose that Hollywood doesn’t value diversity because the average moviegoer doesn’t value diversity. Hollywood pictures that stereotype homosexuals and people of color exist because the average moviegoer will reward those stereotypes with box office success. The reason so many African-American actors report being told that they should try playing their character more black is because there are actually people who’ll legitimately be confused by an African American who’s not a stereotype.
And what’s particularly baffling is those who could do the most to rectify this situation are neglecting to do so. How is it that Spike Lee and Will Smith can spend an entire year not fighting for more people of color in film, even though they are in positions where they can make a difference?
I particularly question the actions of Will Smith, who was snubbed for Best Actor. He has said publicly that he would still have considered boycotting even if he received a nomination. While he might believe that is true, I doubt that this would even have been an issue were he nominated. I suspect that people’s standards for diversity are not particularly high. Some would be upset, but it likely wouldn’t have enjoyed mainstream support.
All this outrage has done is embarrass the Academy, which would be effective if they were to blame, but they’re not. The truth is that the Academy could be completely comprised of people of color and it wouldn’t change anything. Until there is diversity within Hollywood, until the American people begin to value diversity, until society makes the changes necessary to promote racial harmony, nothing will change.
The #OscarsSoWhite attitude towards diversity in Hollywood can do serious harm to the cause. What would happen if the Oscars changed to such an extent that African Americans were equally represented at the Academy Awards? Would that change the industry? Would it create more opportunities for people of color in Hollywood? Or would it set a dangerous precedent that the Academy Awards ought to be a litmus test for diversity in Hollywood, in which Hollywood can continue not casting African-American actors as long as a few get nominated for Oscars each year? What happens when people only blame the Academy rather than the film industry and, most importantly, at ourselves for allowing such a system to exist?
We need to stop blaming the Academy for this situation. Award ceremonies are not a fair measurement of racial progress.