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Are The Oscars Too White?

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All is not well in La-La-Land,  ahead of the Oscars later this month, Chris Montague criticises the systemic failure of the award to recognise different racial backgrounds. 

A significant amount of critical tweets arose this month after the Academy failed to nominate a single non-white actor for the first time since 1998. However, in mocking the 7,000 individuals who annually select the nominees, Twitter users have largely been aiming their rage at the wrong cause.

The real problem: the film industry itself. There is little acknowledgment for the fact that there simply weren’t enough non-white directors or actors appearing in movies during the past year. While there are endless references to Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo being snubbed, can anyone else name another ‘minority’ actor who actually deserved a nomination? I don’t think so.

As George Lucas, (a long-time critic of the Academy who rejected its nomination for him to join) wisely pointed out recently “you’re not talking about the show, when you talk about racism, you’re talking about Hollywood.” The issue is with the system.

12 Years a Slave star  Chiwetel Ejiofor, who was nominated for Best Actor last year.  Image Credits: thenypost
12 Years a Slave star Chiwetel Ejiofor, who was nominated for Best Actor last year.
Image Credits: thenypost

As an illustration: stories with strong minority leads aren’t typically given the green light, due in part to the lack of minority artistic voices in Hollywood to produce them. Therefore, neither the performances nor the production exist for the Academy to choose from. Is all this likely to change? Though Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs insisted last year that with the success of 12 Years A Slave, “a major door will have been knocked down.”

I’m not so convinced. After all, while minorities may be appearing in and directing major films about historical minorities overcoming racial difficulties (think Selma, The Butler, 12 Years A Slave, and Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom), they continue to be largely absent from the major original screenplays year after year.

Moreover, minorities are only being offered parts that they inevitably have to play. And with there only being so many racially historical stories to tell, there doesn’t seem to be precedent for huge change in the future. Right now, Hollywood is simply too exclusive. Unless this white dominated, money-driven industry starts to encourage social mobility in order to reap the talents of poorer minorities – an action that society in general could pay homage to – regrettably I do not see it changing.

Chris Montague

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