Last week, #OscarsSoWhite became a trending topic on Twitter after the nominations for the 87th Academy Awards were announced. Aside from the typical commentary that particular films or actors were left out of their respective categories, the spotlight on the nominations shone on the stunning lack of minority nominees. Instead, the Academy chose to nominate the same breed of wealthy, white and mostly male contenders that have been graciously rewarded since the awards show began in 1929. While the trending topic of #OscarsSoWhite received dismissive criticism from those in Hollywood, I think it is a necessary first step to begin to voice our issues with representation in the arts and to eliminate the embedded nature of systemic racism within our culture.
To establish some context for the Oscars this year, all of the actors and actresses nominated for the lead and supporting roles are white. Among the directing nods, only one hails from a visible minority, while all of the nominees are male. Selma, a film about Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement in America, was nominated in Best Picture and Best Song categories, but was locked out of every other category. Even Gillian Flynn, who adapted her own novel into a screenplay for Gone Girl, did not receive a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, despite having won over 15 accolades from various awards groups and critics’ circles in the same category. At least these films were recognized to some extent, while countless other wonderful independent films or smaller productions failed to make their mark on Oscar. I understand that at an awards show, especially one like the Oscars, attracts certain kinds of films designed to fulfill the archetypes that win year after year, but I think it’s about time we addressed the issues that this attitude instills upon pop culture.
According to a study completed by the L.A. Times, among the 6,028 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 93 per cent are white while 76 per cent are male. The average age of an Academy member sits at 62 years old. The Academy has been making better efforts to welcome more diverse invitees to become members in determining the nominees and awards each year, but the trend will continue to see a vast misrepresentation nonetheless. The Times determined that even with a high retiree or death rate among older members and the induction of more non-white and non-male invitees, the Academy would still skew to be 89 per cent white and 72 per cent male by 2023.
To compare, the Motion Picture Association of America offers an annual breakdown of the cinematic box office, which indicates trends among average moviegoers. According to the 2013 study, white audiences make up 54 per cent of the tickets sold in American and Canadian box office sales, Hispanics at 25 per cent, African-Americans at 13 per cent and a category of Other at 8 per cent. The age group of 25 to 39-year-old moviegoers comprises the majority of ticket sales on average, taking about 23 per cent to 25 per cent of tickets based on each of the ethnic categories as defined by the MPAA, which vastly contrasts the statistics of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
If we completed an overhaul of the Academy to better represent what actually comprises the motion picture industry of North America, we may set a better trend for avoiding issues of race and gender in the future. Hollywood stars and awards shows offer a huge amount of influence over the general public who regularly tune in to theatres and television sets and are inherently swayed and moved by the sounds and images before them. Imagine if we could perpetuate a far more real representation of the world in film by promoting and honouring all populations, one that just might shed attention to the minorities that deserve it, rather than the chosen few.