On February 28th, the 88th annual Oscars are set to air on ABC, giving praise to some of the most notable actors, filmmakers, and movies the industry has to offer. But for the second year in a row, black actors and actresses have gone relatively unnoticed in any major categories.
With the announcement of the nominees, a viral backlash surfaced on social media, condemning the Academy for its repeated lack of diversity and lackluster attention to black films/filmmakers. The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite resurfaced as celebrities took to twitter to take jabs. Chris Rock, who will also be hosting the award show, jokingly compared the Oscars to the “The White BET Awards,” while others, like Actress Jada Pinkett Smithand Spike Lee, went so far as to suggest a boycott:
“At the Oscars, people of color are always welcome to give awards, even entertain. But we are rarely recognized for our artistic accomplishments. Should people of color refrain from participating all together? People can only treat us in the way in which we allow. With much respect in the midst of disappointment.” -Jada Pinkett Smith
Yet, the Oscars remain a symptom of the overall problem. Let’s look at some numbers:
The Academy is predominantly white, led 94% by men. Of that percentage, 76% are white, with the average age being 63. According to the 2015 Hollywood Diversity report developed by the Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, the film studio CEOS are run 100% by men, 94% of whom are white. Television studio CEOs come in just under, with 79% men. Yet and still, of that number 96% are white.
These numbers are so staggering that even when twitter eclipses with hashtags like #OscarsSoWhite, I’m almost certain it doesn’t permeate with the real decision makers who have the executive power to actually make change in Hollywood. Many of those men are far removed, both physically and financially, from having to even consider changing the status quo.
The sad truth is our stories are not their reality, but that shouldn’t stop us.
“Begging for acknowledgement, or even asking, diminishes dignity and diminishes power. And we are a dignified people, and we are powerful,” she said. “So let’s let the Academy do them, with all grace and love. And let’s do us, differently.”-Jada Pinkett Smith
For years articles have been written on the subject of diversity, and it’s critical for our voices to be heard on these issues. It is also clear is that we must look for solutions to these problems within our own communities. We must continue to create and celebrate our original content, as opposed to waiting for others to solidify our achievements. As filmmakers, we are as strong as our own network, and if our network is pushing out strong content, written, directed, and championed by black content creators, that alone begins to chip away at the rigid system of the old Hollywood regime.
Many people in the industry, such as, Ava Duvernay, have been vocal about advocating for independent filmmaking. She created a sounding board with her organization ARRAY – dedicated to promoting and distributing independent filmmaking from people of color and women filmmakers. Aside from ARRAY, she has been an advocate of creating a new formula for success, as she mentioned in her speech during the ELLE Women in Hollywood awards last year:
“We don’t always have to rage against the power structure. We can become our own power structure. If the old, white, straight boys’ networks won’t let you in, create new ones. If you’re fortunate enough and experienced enough to have attained some power and to have developed connections, use them to promote and recommend and mentor people who might be overlooked.”-Ava Duvernay
Others include Dennis Dortch and Numa Perrier, a husband and wife duo, who launchedBlackandSexyTV, essentially creating their own network after realizing that their stories weren’t being acknowledged by the larger networks. BlackandSexyTV now houses nearly 10 originally scripted series written and produced by black filmmakers available for subscription, with three of their most popular shows, ‘RoomieLoverFriends,’ ‘Hello Cupid,’ and ‘Sexless’ picked up by BET last year.
Issa Rae is another creator who realized that Hollywood offered limited creative control, so she launched Color Creative with her partner Deniese Davis, to help produce pilots from underrepresented writers of color. While journalist, DeShuna Spencer created KweliTV, slated to launch in 2016, an online streaming service that has been dubbed the “Black Netflix.”
By building our own networks and distribution platforms, we don’t need to rely on the Oscars to validate our work. Instead, we can simply build establishments that impact the industry meaningfully, develop our own narratives, and write the rules of our stories.