Controversial Oscars


Chris Rock cracking a joke about the lack of diversity in this year’s Oscars during the teaser released January 8th, 2016.

Edan Larkin, Contributing Writer

After Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, Guillermo del Toro, John Krasinski, and Ang Lee announced the nominee list for the Oscars on Thursday, January 14th, there has been much controversy regarding the lack of people of color nominees in the top four categories for the second year in a row.

As this is not the first year people of color are excluded from the top four categories of the Oscars, numerous groups are calling racism and labeling this year’s Oscars a “White­Out” Oscars with the social media tag #OscarsSoWhite. With all of this anger, the question white groups are asking is whether or not there are any people of color actors worthy of being nominated.

In response to these questions, movies such as Straight Outta Compton and Creed have been highlighted as noteworthy examples.  Straight Outta Compton is a movie regarding Ice Cube’s, Dr. Dre’s, Eazy­E’s, DJ Yella’s, and MC Ren’s rise to fame.

After the release on August 11, 2015, Straight Outta Compton has been nominated for many awards, including the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and 11 other awards.

Of these awards, the film won both the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Motion Picture and the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture for O’Shea Jackson Jr.’s portrayal of his father Ice Cube. Since many regard Straight Outta Compton as a success and all of the main characters are black, it seems clear that the film and its cast are a prime example of people of color worthy of a nomination.

Even the film’s executive producer Will Parker joined in on the social media outburst, posting to his Facebook page, “To my #OscarsSoWhite folks who are angry at the absurd lack of diversity highlighted yet again by this year’s Oscar noms. Trust me, I get it.” In his post, he also addressed the Academy. “To my Academy colleagues, WE HAVE TO DO BETTER. Period. The reason the rest of the world looks at us like we have no clue is because in 2016 it’s a complete embarrassment to say that the heights of cinematic achievement have only been reached by white people. I repeat—it’s embarrassing,” he wrote.

Creed, another successful film featuring people of color as main characters, was nominated for and won various awards. Of the seven of the awards won by the film were Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture for Sylvester Stallone.  Despite the other six awards, not one of the applauded person of colors’ performances is recognized by the Oscars this year, and many different groups are unhappy with this.

As for the talents involved with the Oscars this year, there have been varied responses. Chris Rock, an African­ American comedian, is to host the event, even after being urged to step down in protest. According to Academy Awards producer Reginald Hudlin, after Rock heard about #OscarsSoWhite, he completely reworked his opening monologue to address the topic. He also made sure to throw in a few jokes about the lack of diversity in the teaser for the upcoming ceremony.

“Chris is hard at work. He and his writing staff locked themselves in a room,” Hudlin told Entertainment Tonight at the NAACP Image Awards lunch. “As things got a little provocative and exciting, he said, ‘I’m throwing out the show I wrote and writing a new show.’”

When asked if the Academy was prepared for Rock’s comments, Hudlin responded, “And, yes, the Academy is ready for him to do that. They’re excited about him doing that. They know that’s what we need. They know that’s what the public wants, and we deliver what the people want.”

Other African­ American stars such as Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith have spoken out about the lack of diversity in the Oscars this year as well; neither are attending the ceremony. On Monday, January 18th, Jada Pinkett Smith announced that she was boycotting the Oscars and would not be attending or even watching it on television.

As a considered contender for a nomination this year­­ and a winner of a Golden Globe for his performance in Concussion­­ Will Smith said “So when I see this list and series of nominations that come out — everybody is fantastic, and that’s the complexity of this issue. Everyone is beautiful and deserving and is fantastic, but it feels like it’s going the wrong direction,” Smith said. “It reflects a series of challenges we’re having in our country at the moment. There’s a regressive slide toward separatism.”

When Smith was asked about some people’s claim that his wife is only protesting in response to him not being nominated, he responded, “For Jada, had I been nominated and no other people of color were, she would have made the video anyway.”

The white actors represented by the Oscars this year and previous years had their own comments to make. Charlotte Rampling, nominated for her role as Kate Mercer in 45 Years, claims that the boycotting of the Oscars due to diversity deficiency is “racist to whites.”

On Friday, January 22nd on French Radio network Europe 1 she stated, “One can never really know, but perhaps the black actors did not deserve to make the final list.” Continuing, she asked, “Why classify people? These days everyone is more or less accepted… But do we have to take from this that there should be lots of minorities everywhere?”

After the interviewer explained that people of color in the industry feel as if they are a minority, Rampling replied: “No comment.” But Rampling’s opinion of the Oscars is very contrasts with many of her fellow nominees.

Mark Ruffalo, a nominee for best supporting actor, has spoken out about his support of improving opportunities for people of color in today’s film industry. Past caucasian Oscar winners and nominees including George Clooney and Reese Witherspoon have also voiced their support of people of color.

Regardless of these varied opinions, it is clear that there is a lack of representation in the media. White actors are constantly cast in people of color roles, and, therefore, constantly telling stories that are not theirs to tell. It is argued that white people make up a larger part of our population and that is why they are cast, but this is not truth.

People of color are rapidly approaching the point of surpassing caucasians as the majority. According to Richard Alba of the New York Times, “In 2012, the Census Bureau announced that nonwhite births exceeded white births for the first time. In 2013, it noted that more whites were dying than were being born. In March, it projected that non­Hispanic whites would be a minority by 2044.”

Considering that there is such a large population of people of color, it is clear that there is not enough representation of them in the media. Having children of color grow up and not be able to see themselves portrayed in a good light by media outlets is troubling. If these children are not shown that they can do all a white person can, they aren’t as motivated to try to. They cannot be what they cannot see.

White dominance is reestablished each time people of color lose representation. Whether or not the Oscars intended on doing so, they have contributed to the lean toward separatism. As a society, it is crucial to try to make the change to accurate representation in the media.

In the words of Will Smith, “This is so deeply not about me. This is about children that are going to sit down and they’re going to watch this show and they’re not going to see themselves represented.”