Last year wasn’t an anomaly, it turns out, and this year’s melanin-challenged list of nominees competing for Oscars show how little Hollywood has learned. For the second straight year, the list of Academy Award hopefuls count a grand total of zero non-white actors, zero non-white screenwriters, zero non-white producers, and one non-white director (Alejandro González Iñárritu, who helmed The Revenant).
Movie fans have already taken to social media to express their frustration by reviving hashtags like #OscarsSoWhite, created last year by Broadway Black managing editor April Reign. And already, there are the expected canned counters such as, “Well of course your favorites will get snubbed, it’s not a race thing, that’s just how awards work. After all, for every Ryan Coogler, there is a Quentin Tarantino.”
That would make sense if it were true, but the numbers simply do not lie. It’s not just a matter of who’s being cast or hired, but who gets to cast or hire in the first place. A 2013 UCLA study found that 92 percent of movie studios’ senior executives, 82 percent of film directors, and 88 percent of film writers were white.
We’re at a point, after decades of protest from black actors, producers, and directors where (as well as a certain batch of leaked emails), where Hollywood is just finally acknowledging that diversity in casting and story telling is “good business,” but we simply need look at this year’s list of nominees to see that hiring black actors or even telling black stories, does not equality make.
Creed, written and directed by Coogler, and starring a diverse cast led by Michael B. Jordan, only managed to land one nomination: Sylvester Stallone for Best Supporting Actor. The widely lauded Straight Outta Compton, the highest-grossing biopic ever made, got only one nod, for best screenplay; Andrea Berloff and Jonathan Herman, the writers who brought N.W.A.’s story to the big screen, both happen to be white. Even Netflix’s nominated Nina Simone documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? was produced and directed by a white woman named Liz Garbus.
Like it or not, the Oscars are a reflection of not just the “art,” but Hollywood’s racially monolithic power structure: according to a 2014 L.A. Times survey, the Academy itself remains 93 percent white and 76 percent male. Sure, awards are subjective, but let’s not pretend having that “Academy-Award Nominated/Winning” prefix before a name is a matter of pure vanity. Recognition by the Academy opens the doors for more roles, more projects, more money, and ultimately more control of the stories, and who gets to tell them.
The same system that excludes people of color from leadership roles in Hollywood is the same system that rewards Quentin Tarantino with titles like “the baddest black filmmaker working today” for continually winning nominations and awards for writing “black” characters that are, let’s face it, a half-shuffle away from a minstrel show. It’s the same system that excludes black actors and directors from even a single nomination, yet guarantees that even if a black-led film wins an award this year, the trophy will end up in the hands of a white person.
Racism, in and out of Hollywood, continues to exist because of its systematic and cyclical nature. Excluding black directors, writers, and actors while rewarding their white counterparts for telling black stories is just a continuation of the cycle, not an improvement upon it. While Hollywood has pledged to step up its diversity hiring, this year’s list of Academy Award nominees prove that reaching the goal of “diversity” in Hollywood is still a long way off.