February comes packed with extra drama, with Valentine’s Day and the Oscars — when stars duke it out for the acclaimed awards and sometimes end up heartbroken.
Shortly after announcing the nominations, the Academy Awards came under fire from actors and the public alike for a lack of diversity in its more prominent categories. Various figures in the entertainment industry took to Facebook and Twitter after it was revealed that, for the first time since 1998, all 20 nominees for Best Lead and Best Supporting Actor were white. Outraged fans also pointed out that no women received nominations for Best Director.
The nominations also came as a shock to some critics and fans of the historical drama Selma, which focuses on Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march. Many thought the biopic’s lead actor (David Oyelowo) and director (Ava DuVernay) were snubbed, even if the movie was nominated for Best Picture and Best Original Song.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), the organization responsible for Oscar voting, was quick to respond. The morning following the nominations, President Cheryl Boone Isaacs addressed the issue in an interview with the Associated Press, saying the Academy is “committed to seeking out diversity of voice and opinion” and that expanding the industry to women and people of color is a priority. Being the first black president of AMPAS, she further insisted that progress was being made.
“In the last two years, we’ve made greater strides than we ever have in the past toward becoming a more diverse and inclusive organization through admitting new members and more inclusive classes of members,” said Boone Isaacs. “I would love to see, and look forward to see, a greater cultural diversity among all our nominees in all of our categories.”
Oyelowo and DuVernay had differing reactions to the snubbing. Giving a surprisingly tempered response, Oyelowo focused on the issues rather than his personal loss in an interview with Access Hollywood.
“There’s a lack of diversity, period,” he explained, noting how there are not many prominent minorities in the film industry. “I think I was the only real shot, myself and Ava [DuVernay], at individual nominations, and that’s something we’ve got to put a dent in and make sure that’s not the case.”
DuVernay was even more blunt in her interview with Entertainment Weekly (EW) back in December.
“It would be lovely,” she said when speaking on the topic of possibly becoming the first black woman to land a directing nod. “When it happens, to whomever it happens to, it will certainly have meaning.”
But she also predicted it would not be her.
“This is not me being humble either,” she said. “It’s math.”
The math that DuVernay was referring to is the demographic makeup of AMPAS. Though all 6,028 members vote on who wins an Oscar, nominations are decided by the peers for each of their respective categories. For example, actors vote for actors, directors vote for directors, etc.
In a 2013 study by the Los Angeles Times, it was revealed that Oscar voters overall are 93 percent Caucasian and 76 percent male with a median age of 62. Within the director branch, voters are 91 percent male and 90 percent white.
It’s also worth noting that for the first 40 years after AMPAS founding in 1927, segregation prevented many minorities from being nominated. Since all AMPAS members have to have won an Oscar or have contributed significantly to the film industry to be nominated, this ratio may just be reflective of America’s past.
Even so, though being black and a woman didn’t necessarily guarantee not earning a nod, DuVernay said she believed her lack of personal and professional connection with her peers would be the main reason she wouldn’t receive the award.
“I know not one person in my branch,” she said in the interview with EW.
Despite this setback, film expert Dave Krager noted there is a silver lining.
“It’s the first film directed by an African-American female to be nominated for best picture,” Karger said. “That’s a fantastic achievement.”
Until the Oscars arrive Feb. 22, speculation will fly over the concept of race in Hollywood. However, the issue can be interpreted as two things: a sign of an industry that has primarily slanted towards whites, or, more moderately, an effect of the past that has left a long-lasting mark on the world of film. Reversing its effect will be a progressive process that will come as our culture changes, hopefully for the better.