#OscarsSoWhite - Where the problem begins
“This is the second year in a row that the Academy has failed to nominate an actor of color for the Oscars. Many expected Smith’s performance in “Concussion,” Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson’s roles in “Creed,” Idris Elba in “Beasts of No Nation” and/or any of the actors from “Straight Out of Compton” to be singled out for nods, but instead, all-white actresses and actors were nominated.” - Variety
If you’re reading this article you are likely aware of the problem facing the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. As the second year in a row with this problem, not to mention all the years previous, the Academy had some changes they needed to make. The president of the Academy, Cheryl Isaacs, did just that by saying, "A lot of highly qualified potential members (of the Academy) were falling outside our radar… We are not lowering any standards, we’re widening our net.” Ensuring everyone that they’re aware of the problem and are taking action to fix it. But I want to raise a different question - Is the problem really with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences?
Before I delve into this sensitive and overwhelming subject let me define my position. I am a white male from Utah, the eighth whitest state in the nation. I have very little personal experience regarding discrimination in the film industry or any industry for that matter. The film industry is a career, hobby and a very deep passion of mine. There is an obvious problem regarding nominating African Americans for acting and directing awards in the Oscars. The people nominating and voting for these extremely important and career boosting awards are not only 94% white, but they are also old. The average age is 63. Their mindset is different than the rising generation. That being said, I’m not entirely sure the problem begins with the AMPAS.
If completing the race to become an amazing actor finishes with winning an Academy Award, then why are we looking at the finish line as the start of this diversity problem? It seems people are getting angry that only white people are crossing the finish line. When, it seems, only whites are given the chance to run the race. I’m not saying there were no phenomenal acting performances by actors and actresses of color this year. Idris Elba and Michael B. Jordan were some of the best performances of the year. Not to mention Ryan Coogler for directing. I’m saying it could easily be a game of probability. According to Casey Gane-Mccalla from newsone.com, “In the early 2000s, blacks played 15 percent of roles in film and TV. Today, it has fallen to 13 percent, according to SAG (Screen Actors Guild). And black directors make up only 4 percent of the DGA (Directors Guild of America).” If we are strictly talking numbers, the chances are actually pretty high to end up with nothing but white acting nominations. Say you have 100 M&M’s. 96 of them are blue and 4 are green. If you reach into the bag blindly and grab one M&M - What are the chances you grab a green one? I know it doesn't translate directly, but the same principle applies. The pool the voters are swimming in is too light to begin with. The idea goes like this - getting more African Americans to become actors means they get more leading roles. More leading roles equals more amazing roles. More amazing roles equals more Academy acting nominations. The same principle applies if you are talking about directors, cinematographers or any award.
I know some of you must be thinking, “Look at this naive little white kid from the Mormon state. He thinks simply more black actors means more leading black acting parts. The black actors working now can’t even get lead parts.” If 50 people try out for a part and 45 of them are white. The chances are in favor of the white man. But if we change that. If 50 people try out for a part and even 30 of them are white. The odds are much better. Don't get me wrong, I understand that discrimination is a very real thing. I am sure there are casting directors out there that wont give a lead role to an African American because of some prejudice mindset he or she has had their whole life. Whether conscious or not, bias casting exists. But this idea extents to more than just actors. If we can give more African Americans the opportunity to enter the film industry that means we’ll get more of these deserving and talented people in all positions in Hollywood. Actor’s, actresses, cinematographers, directors and even casting directors. I know it seems like trying to move a mountain with one shovel, but I think it can be done. Maybe, just maybe, this problem extends even further. If simply raising the amount of African Americans working in Hollywood is a solution then how do more African Americans gain the opportunity to become trained actors and film professionals?
Although I have an opinion, now is when we enter a realm of our culture I am massively under-qualified to examine. How do we give more of these talented men and women the opportunity to learn the craft of theater? The study of history, culture, economics, and sociology could all tell you more about the problem facing our society than I can. It’s a large boat to turn. Habits in an individual can be harder to change than overcoming an addiction. Habits among a society are nearly impossible to alter. I fear this bias mindset is a habit that has attached itself like a tic in the deepest and darkest parts of our minds. So what’s the solution? A charitable saint builds an acting school in a predominately black community that’s affordable and available to the public? Production companies receive compensation for having a certain percentage of colored actors in their films? Maybe Jada Pinket-Smith has it right and all black actors should boycott the Oscars till the message is received. I don’t know. What I do know is the African American community is not properly represented in what is widely considered the most prestigious film and acting competition in the world. According to the Hollywood Reporter “Being nominated for an Academy Award is one of the most prestigious honors that every actor and actress dreams of experiencing.” The fact that out of 20 acting nominations it’s a complete white-out is unacceptable. Whether the roots of this stem from the Academy or from our society in general - this is a problem.
Help be the solution.
Thanks for reading