The hot topic of the moment is undoubtedly the backlash the academy is receiving after the Oscar nominations were announced, and ultimately resulted in not one minority actor or director being nominated in any major category. This has spawned malice from the likes of Jada Pinkett Smith, whom has since announced that she would be boycotting the Oscars, and implored others to do the same. As a result, Will Smith, Spike Lee and now Mark Ruffalo have also spoken out regarding the lack of diversity within the academy which they feel has led to a bias reflected in the nominations. The academy is now reviewing potential solutions to the issue at hand, one of which would be expanding the best picture category to hard 10 film count. The current system leaves room for the potential of anywhere from 5 to 10 films based on a ballot system. They are reviewing making it a hard 10 in an attempt to stifle the growing concern surrounding the lack of diversity.
On top of the changes to the best picture category come the potential for additional slots added to the acting categories as well. Though this may seem less likely as the 5 slot concept has been around since the inception of the award show, it is still an idea being tossed around. There is also a new rule that may come into to affect that would force academy voters to actually cast a ballot for all categories, with the threat of temporary suspension of voting privileges should a member fail to do so. While no changes will be finalized until the board of governors meets, there is certainly an expectation that changes are on the horizon given the embarrassment surrounding this year’s complete “whiteout.” This does however beg the question, Is the lack of diversity amongst the nominees the academies fault? And is it now the academies responsibility to affect abject change in Hollywood?
The expansion of the nominee list might sound like a halfway decent idea, but keeping in mind that only one film is going to win, it hardly feels like a solution to the diversity issue. Instead it would feel more like a handicap, an expansion to appease, meant strictly to create room for minority filmmakers and actors to get empty nominations when they have no real shot at winning. When the academy did have a hard 10 films in 2010 and 2011 the best picture category was laced with schlock that had no business in the race and just seemed like placeholders to fill out the remaining slots on a ballot. There is also no discounting the fact that simply opening up the award to few extra spots does not necessarily mean that those slots would be filled with minority filmmakers or actors anyway. So is the expansion the answer? Probably not, but it’s realistically the only response the academy has to give.
There is no denying that the substantial lack of any person or persons of color is a serious issue. That being said if we peruse the nominee list and look into the potential for any particular person of color to be switched with one of the current nominees it could be argued that there is simply not a spot to be switched out that makes sense. Idris Elba certainly could have been nominated for best supporting actor, but which of the 5 actors already nominated would you replace? Same could be said for Will Smith for best lead actor, or Straight Outta Compton and Creed for best picture. The preceding point is not meant to be taken as these individuals do not deserve recognition, and is definitely not a shot at their talent level. Smith and Elba are two of the finest actors working today and are brilliant by any standard. The issue at hand may very well be that the academy is simply not the problem.
Yes the academy is predominately made of white males over the age of 60, and yes that statistic on it’s own may represent a particular bias when it comes to balloting, but the question remains, who do you replace? Could it be, that the academy is not the biggest proponent of prejudice or stagnancy when it comes to diversity amongst Hollywood? It would seem that it is the academies job to pick the absolute best of the best in each category every year, regardless or race. So the bigger issue at hand seems to be the lack of roles being offered to people of color. Diversity is not necessarily the academies fault and would seem much more a societal problem, perpetuated by the industry in general. “White washing” is not a new concept in Hollywood. Even today, when the world is as progressive as it’s ever been we are still met with films and roles that offer up leads to white actors regardless of the race of the characters. The prime example of recent is the film Exodus Gods and Kings. The Ridley Scott directed film set in Ancient Egypt had the nerve to cast Joel Edgerton as Ramses and Christian Bale as Moses. Two leading characters whose lineage is middle eastern and the actors they get to fill these roles are white. This is just one example of a long list of films that have come before it to do the very same.
So now it is the award show that catches the backlash, but the issue is so much bigger than one organization and one award show. The issue lies in the fact that we still do not have large roles in big blockbusters being offered to minorities. How is it that we have not had a person of color playing a character like James Bond yet? Why are there not more roles that are written for minorities or at least are written with ambiguous racial descriptives leaving the door open to cast a person of color? How is it possible that we live in a world where Michael B. Jordan, a world class actor, was actually ridiculed for being cast as Johnny Storm in Fantastic 4 simply because he is black? This is not the academies fault, and so boycotting an awards show seems like small potatoes when compared to the much greater issue at hand. Hollywood is an old boys club, and studio heads are not without blame. In fact the studios deserve a lion share of it, as they are the ones that seemingly refuse to fund films with predominantly minority performers and instead hinder the use of such performers by placing restrictions on who filmmakers are allowed to put in their movies.
The academy continues to field negative responses regarding the saddening lack of diversity in the nominee list for the 2016 award show. Yet the root the problem remains unscathed in the fray. Remembering that prejudice is a societally based problem that starts at the top and rolls down hill, the stand is made through dollar signs. The more we as fans spend to go and see films with minority directors and stars, the more we are telling the film industry that we are okay with the diversification of the movie business. It is time that a stand is taken against a system that is showing prejudice, but the academy and the Oscars are seemingly being made the easy scapegoat to a much larger issue.