Does Hollywood have a diversity problem? Do white people only realize it around award season? Short answer: yes. Last night, Saturday Night Live took on the controversial topic in their Screen Guild Awards skit, which pokes fun at this year’s list of Oscar nominations. In it, Cecily Strong announces the nominees for Best Actor. All the nominees are white, and all of them are playing minor roles in semi-fictional films with black lead actors. Per typical SNL style, each nomination gets more and more ridiculous until it goes from tongue-in-cheek to just ludicrous. But isn’t that the point that Hollywood has reached as well? Take the three minutes to watch the SNL skit above, I promise it is well worth the time.
This year Michael B. Jordan’s co-star Sylvester Stallone was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in Creed. Samuel L. Jackson (The Hateful Eight) and Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation) were both overlooked for Best Supporting Actor nominations, the first of which played a role in the Oscar nominated film. Meanwhile, the critically acclaimed Straight Outta Compton was completely neglected. One has to ask, does a black actor or actress really only get nominated when they play a submissive role? It’s almost offensive for me to type that sentence, but it’s fact based. The last two black actresses to win an Oscar were Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years a Slave and Octavia Spencer for The Help. Selma was nominated for Best Picture last year, but are we to believe it wasn’t the strong performances by David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo that helped drive that film or was it just that they played roles of empowerment against white males?
Sure black actors have been nominated and won awards for more diverse roles, but what it boils down to is this: Hollywood is too white. Choice roles are offered to your typical Oscar-material, white male actors, the Eddie Redmaynes and the Leonardo DiCaprios. Both wonderful actors, but how many times have we seen, “Dear god someone give Leo an Oscar”? Even the choice roles that should have a person of color are given to white actors, or racebending. Emma “whitest girl you know” Stone was literally cast in Aloha in a role that calls for the character to be half Asian. So it’s not just an issue with the Academy, it’s a product of a larger problem. A problem that we allow.
As consumers, we say yes with our money. Despite the groans upon hearing of another Transformers movie in the works, we continue feeding into the billion dollar franchise. As your film-loving soul screams at such a travesty, the big bosses in Hollywood are looking at the profits. Consumers want it, let’s give it to them. So when we pay to see movies that have racebending or choose not to support movies with a more diverse cast, we are telling studios that this is OK – they’re just giving the people what they want. It’s not just that Hollywood needs to take a good, long look in the mirror, we need to demand it from them.
There is a silver lining. The backlash the Academy received has led to some actual, progressive change. In a press release sent out Friday, prior to the SNL skit, Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs stated that the AMPAS has committed to increasing diversity among voting members:
“The Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up. These new measures regarding governance and voting will have an immediate impact and begin the process of significantly changing our membership composition.”
Their goal is to double the number of women and diverse members by 2020. I think it’s great the Academy is trying to solve the problem rather than apologize for it. Using their status to implement change is commendable, I hope that in doing so they lead the industry in a new direction. But it is also up to us to use our consumer power to support that change.
Here are more details from the press release regarding the Academy’s path to change:
Beginning later this year, each new member’s voting status will last 10 years, and will be renewed if that new member has been active in motion pictures during that decade. In addition, members will receive lifetime voting rights after three ten-year terms; or if they have won or been nominated for an Academy Award. We will apply these same standards retroactively to current members. In other words, if a current member has not been active in the last 10 years they can still qualify by meeting the other criteria. Those who do not qualify for active status will be moved to emeritus status. Emeritus members do not pay dues but enjoy all the privileges of membership, except voting. This will not affect voting for this year’s Oscars.
At the same time, the Academy will supplement the traditional process in which current members sponsor new members by launching an ambitious, global campaign to identify and recruit qualified new members who represent greater diversity.
In order to immediately increase diversity on the Board of Governors, the Academy will establish three new governor seats that will be nominated by the President for three-year terms and confirmed by the Board.
The Academy will also take immediate action to increase diversity by adding new members who are not Governors to its executive and board committees where key decisions about membership and governance are made. This will allow new members an opportunity to become more active in Academy decision-making and help the organization identify and nurture future leaders.