The entire world seems to have an opinion regarding this years’ Oscars. Celebrities such as Jada Pinkett Smith, Spike Lee, David Oyelowo, Don Cheadle, Michael Moore, Chris Rock, and more have expressed their discontent with the lack of diversity in this year’s nominees. Out of 20 opportunities for a diverse actor to be nominated for leading and supporting fields, all nominations went to non-diverse talent. As an African-American female who works in this industry, I certainly understand the frustration and feelings of exclusion that many members of the entertainment community have outwardly expressed. Some are calling for a boycott, others are outright calling members of the Academy ‘racist,’ and this particular topic has even caused some to loose their mind altogether (refer to Janet Hubert’s aka “Aunt Viv from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s” nonsensical video where she berates Jada and Will Smith).
“The Academy has a problem. It’s a problem that needs to be solved. For 20 opportunities to celebrate actors of color, actresses of color, to be missed last year is one thing; for that to happen again this year is unforgivable.” – David Oyelowo
I agree that there is a problem that needs to be solved; however, the members of the Academy did not collectively make it their mission to eliminate people of color from this ceremony. Oscar voters are nearly 94 percent Caucasian and 77 percent male, and to make things even more interesting, the average age of the voters increased from 62 to 63. In 2013, under the leadership of Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the Academy “relaxed its membership quotas” in an attempt to bring more women and minorities into the organization; however, the change only managed to decrease the statistics by less than 1 percent. Based on the data, it is very clear that the majority of voters are from a different era and are more than likely a bit out of touch with the views and opinions that are considered to be mainstream today. There is a specific type of film that the majority of voters enjoy primarily due to the fact that they are from a different generation and their definition of “cinematic brilliance” is quite different from ours. This is not an excuse for the Oscars’ lack of diversity; however, the demographics of the voters play a major part in the issue that we are facing today.
“While we celebrate their extraordinary achievements, I am both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion. This is a difficult but important conversation, and it’s time for big changes. The Academy is taking dramatic steps to alter the makeup of our membership.” – Cheryl Boone Isaacs, President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences
Regarding the boycott – I’m sure that it will bring more press and publicity to the issue; however, I’m not certain that a boycott will change anything about this situation. After fighting this battle year after year, one would think that people would be tired of complaining about the lack of diversity in this awards ceremony, join together, and collectively come up with a solution. I am over the annual complaints about the lack of diversity at the Oscars. Rather than creating videos and/or expressing discontent via Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms, the elite members of Black Hollywood should be taking a different approach. We need to be supporting, funding, and/or creating lasting pipelines for up and coming diverse producers, writers, directors, development executives etc. By building our own powerful establishments geared towards the promotion of high quality diverse content, we start to place less importance on receiving validation and awards from mainstream sources, and create more creative opportunities for ourselves.
“So often in this industry we wait for permission. Sometimes you have to create your own systems, your own structures.” –Ava DuVernay
Yesterday, in the midst of the trending #OscarsSoWhite Twitter hashtag and countless articles surrounding the topic, it was announced that Ava DuVernay partnered with Indiegogo in an effort to help “raise awareness and create sustainable support systems for films created by women and filmmakers of color.” This is a prime example of the types of actions that members of our community should be supporting and establishing.
It’s time to stop relying on the system that that was built far before our existence, work hard to master our craft, use our influence to make a difference, and create our own opportunities.
“It’s not about knocking on closed doors. It’s about building our own house, and having our own doors. It’s about building our own systems and ways to do things.” – Ava DuVernay