It seems even after eighty-seven long years, many of which have seen extraordinarily moving and delightfully engaging performances by gifted actors and actresses of color, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences continues to fail in even the most meager attempts to properly honor the accomplishments of these performers. It is no secret that despite the ethnic and cultural diversity of our immense nation, Hollywood has remained substantially whitewashed, celebrating the talents of African American actors and actresses only within the confines of roles that appeal to restrictive, entrenched racial stereotypes. While there have been exceptions to this rule – African American men have made significant strides in the film industry over the past few decades – women of color are consistently snubbed for leading roles, and actors and actresses of Native American, Asian, and Latin American backgrounds receive even less adequate representation. While this deficiency of racial realism in American media is merely a symptom of a much broader, more sinister reality – the consistent neglect of certain ethnic groups across many dimensions of American culture – it must nonetheless be addressed in full.
Institutions like the Academy seem to walk in lock-step; while approximately thirteen and seventeen percent of the U.S. population are African American or Latino, respectively, the voters who comprise the Academy are almost ninety-four percent white. Over seventy percent of these members are male, with an average age resting just above sixty years old. The AMPAS has, in recent years, attempted to right this dismal oversight, but even the entrance of hundreds of new voters has barely changed these averages. The 87th annual Academy Awards this past month stand as a glaring testament to this fact. While Ava DuVernay’s film Selma, a historical drama depicting the African American suffrage marches of 1965., received nominations for Best Picture and Best Song, no members of its cast, nor its director, were selected for individual awards. I was disturbed, although not particularly surprised to learn, that all twenty of the nominees for acting roles at this year’s Oscars were white.
Yes, films starring actors and actresses of color have secured awards at the Oscars in recent years, but not nearly enough. The majority of films nominated for Best Picture and other coveted decorations continue to be those that depict the trials and tribulations of white male heroes. Despite Selma’s undoubted success at the box office following the media circus surrounding its snub, the film stands as a failure – not of DuVernay, but of ourselves. When we do not challenge racial axes of oppression, do not insist that such a significant collective as the Academy celebrate our country’s talent in such a manner that reflects the ethnic and cultural diversity from which we as citizens derive so much pride, we are committing a cruel injustice.
Paige Bradley (COL ’17) is a member of H*yas for Choice.