However, my love of the Academy Awards is hindered by the fact I rarely see people who look like me as nominees, much less winning the awards. In the 86 year history of the awards, 99% of the winners for best actress have been white. The one non-white woman to get a Best Actress award was a black woman, Halle Berry. Across all acting categories, 91% of the winners have been white. Seven were men of color.
As for directors, out of the 425 that have been nominated, only 18 were not white males, and out of those 18 only 3 have won: A white woman, Kathryn Bigelow, Taiwanese-American Ang Lee, and, last night, Alfonso Cuarón from Mexico. So yes, that means that only 2 non-white people have won the best director Oscar, one of them just yesterday. Seeing the complete lack of people of color in both the acting & directing side of filmmaking is especially demoralizing for non-white people who are acting and creating films of their own.
Lots of arguments for why this is the case are thrown around, but the laziest argument is “Those films just aren't as good as the others.” I tend to hear this argument about black films in particular. I cannot tolerate any argument that simply dismisses films by non-whites as not as good without critiquing a system that excludes an entire swath of America from its perspective. 94% percent of Oscar Award voters in the Academy are white, with the majority of them being men. The majority of members in the acting, directing, and writing branches are white. And the way to join the Academy? Nomination by someone already in the Academy, after working on several films that “reflect the Academy’s highest standards” It’s not surprising that an institution made up of white men tends to celebrate films created and starring white men to the exclusion of others.
Recently there was controversy of the casting of Michael B. Jordan for the role of the Human Torch in the upcoming Fantastic Four film reboot. Due to the original character being white in the original adaptation of the character (his sister is still white in the reboot), those upset about his casting called it unrealistic & breaking with tradition, diversity for diversity’s sake. I feel that even if it is untraditional & unrealistic (it’s not, mixed race families do exist) increasing depictions of non-whites in film is more important than strictly hewing to the source material every time. Being untraditional doesn’t hurt anyone. Having Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch adds another black sci fi hero for a child to look up in a media landscape that is severely lacking in them.
Representation in film is NOT about non-whites seeking approval or validation from whites. For those who work in the film industry, lack of representation in film equals lack of jobs, both on the acting side and on the production side. Parallel Film Collective and AFFRM are two examples out of MANY organizations that seek to create and promote films by people of color outside of a Hollywood structure that excludes us. The goal is always to have people in color in positions to greenlight & distribute films. But while this goes on, striving to break down the prejudices and indifference of whites in power so that more non-white films are distributed is still important.
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A recent speech by Lupita Nyong'o illustrates this point so well. an excerpt:
Yesterday’s Best Supporting Actress win by Lupita Nyong’o, the Best Director win of Alfonso Cuarón and the Best Picture win of 12 Years a Slave do not automatically mean that Hollywood’s problem with representation in film are a thing of the past. Still I hope that these wins are another step toward the day that movies, and society, continuously affirm the ideal that: