Does The Academy Have a Duty To Represent Diversity?

Should the Oscars Better Represent Divsersity?

The internet loves a good kick off, doesn’t it? If it’s not about freedom of speech over potentially blasphemous material then it’s Cadbury’s changing their Creme Eggs (location specific, that one). Of course, the most pertinent issue right now is the 87th Academy Awards, or as we peasants call them, the Oscars.

Now, we always get the usual ‘film X should have been nominated’ or ‘film Y shouldn’t have been nominated’ or ‘how on earth did Bradley Cooper get nominated again?’, but this time there’s a slightly more contentious issue – the lack of diversity in the nominations.

More specifically, it’s the lack of female and non-white nominations, particularly in the ‘major’ categories. But does the Academy have a duty to diversify its nominations or have we made a lotta something outta a lotta nothing?

First of all, we all know that the Oscars doesn’t truly represent the year of film and so they’re never really going to be that diverse anyway. The fact that the ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ category even exists is proof of this. There are always films made by men and women of various races and ethnic backgrounds that don’t get a look in, so why are we really surprised that it’s not a particularly diverse year?

Now let’s rewind to last year. Amongst the winners were a a film made by a black director (Steve McQueen), a black woman (Lupita Nyong’o) and Jared Leto winning for playing a transgender character. Not hugely diverse given the number of overall nominees and winners but there is diversity in there, and amongst the big categories, too.

Ava Duvernay

Ava Duvernay, director of Selma

Onto this year and there isn’t a single black nominee in any of the acting categories. Only Ava Duverny represents any kind of diversity in the main categories for Selma in the Best Picture character, but other than that everything is a whiter shade of pale. There are, however, several women nominated in the Actress in a Leading Role and Actress in a Supporting Role categories.

On a serious note, why is this? It’s difficult to say and it would take a much deeper digging than I am capable of or can be bothered doing. It’s likely a much more complicated issue than simply saying the Academy are white or male biased – although that’s not to say there isn’t some truth to that! You need to look at production companies, agents, producers, sponsors, and probably just about every other aspect of filmmaking. We don’t really know how much pressure the Academy is under, if any, to choose particular films over other.

But here’s the question… should the Academy be duty bound to represent diversity? Those making the nominations may argue that the films, actors and actresses they have chosen really are the best this year, and if that’s really the case then should they be made to change their nominations to include a more diverse selection? Perhaps the make up of Academy members or the voting process needs looking at, or should there even be other categories created to represent the under represented?

It could well be that this year is somewhat of an anomaly, albeit a slightly worrying one, and that next year the nominations will be more diverse. But what if they’re not? Does it matter? The Oscars already alienate a lot of people, so let’s hope they don’t make it even worse.

What do you make of this year’s Oscar nominations? Is the lack of diversity an issue and if so, what should they do about it?

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24 thoughts on “Does The Academy Have a Duty To Represent Diversity?

  1. Great!
    I don’t think it’s THEIR duty to represent diversity. They have to honor what they think was best from a given year. And this year, well, I guess not many people of color were considered “the best” in their fields. This is, of course, not saying that people of color aren’t as good as white people. It’s a bigger, deeper issue. I think, oversimplifying, movies by/featuring people of color get less coverage, there are less “juicy, Oscar-baity” roles for people of color (and women, I’d also say) and frankly, every single aspect of Western society right now is tinged with racial bias so it’s inevitable that this affects Oscar nominations as well.

    • Agreed my friend. There are some much deeper issues going on and I doubt any of us not involved with the nuts and bolts of the film industry really know what they are. I’m hoping this year is just an anomaly, as I’m sure it is, and next year we’ll get back to just moaning why Bradley Cooper got another nomination!

  2. It’s a tough question. Ideally, I’d like to think that it doesn’t matter, and that the nominations really do always reflect the best choices. Certainly it seems like there are few cases where a specific nominee is widely agreed to be inferior to some alleged “snub”. But it’s hard to believe there isn’t some bias involved.

    On the other hand, as an Osage Indian, I can’t help but be annoyed at the hypocrisy present in most cries of “more diversity”. The “diverse” years that are lauded and the “snubs” that are decried as deserving… they’re virtually always black. Even if we treat diversity as a goal in and of itself, beyond just nominating “the best”, adding one minority isn’t the same as being diverse, especially when it’s the “majority minority”, so to speak. I think 2012 was probably the biggest genuinely multi-racial year, with Ang Lee’s Life of Pi adding an Asian to Best Director and an Asian-Indian story to Best Picture. (And, notably, Beasts of the Southern Wild adding a black film to the Best Picture race that wasn’t about slavery or MLK. Sometimes diversity isn’t so diverse.) There’s a hue and cry if there is only one black-focused Best Picture nominee, but there hasn’t been a Native-focused Best Picture nominee since Dances With Wolves (and even that was “white guy among the Natives”.) To the best of my knowledge, there’s never been a Native American nominated for any acting award, nor director. No Asians beyond Ang Lee come to mind, nor do any Hispanics. (I’m sure I’m overlooking a few, mind you; I’m just saying it’s not common.)

    But realistically, I have to wonder if that’s the Academy‘s fault, or if it’s just demographics. How many ethnically diverse films does Hollywood really produce? I can’t truly blame the Academy for not nominating a Native American film if there aren’t any being made. I can blame Hollywood for that, though. But then again, the definition of minority means “there’s fewer of them”; I can’t be surprised at a white-dominated film industry in a white-dominated country.

    I’ve been following the discussion trend on Twitter, and I’m honestly getting curious about just what the actual statistical breakdown is. I might have to take a crack at it. Not to weigh in one way or another, necessarily, but just to see what it really looks like.

    • 70srichard says:

      These were pretty much my thoughts as well, it is the film industry, not the Academy. I may not always agree with their choices but I’d hesitate to call the voters racists, their horizons are limited by the scenery.

    • Excellent point well made Morgan. You’re right, there’s a big outcry this year about the lack of diversity, but all anyone is actually saying is how there are no black nominees. No-one has mentioned any other minorities. No-one seems bothered there aren’t any Middle Eastern nominees or Indian nominees.

      There are miles more films made that are white-centric and so the law of averages says that they will be more likely to be nominated, especially by an organisation such as the Academy which isn’t exactly known for pushing the boat out when it comes to choosing films other than the obvious.

  3. Tom says:

    1) Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve been over here Chris. 😦

    2) Cadbury has changed their Creme Eggs???! wtf??!

    3) As far as diversity goes, I’m honestly not too worried about it. I look at the Academy as a group of pompous, self-aggrandizing individuals who presume to speak for the tastes of millions, which is wholly unrealistic. But it’s still a fun event to watch, and I do empathize with the folks who take issue with a lack of representation in terms of ethnicity, gender, age — what-have-you. Diversity at the Oscars ceremony is like imploring all war films be as realistic as Saving Private Ryan. All romantic comedies be as cutting and insightful as Lost in Translation. All horrors as effective as The Exorcist. See what’s already happening? Opinions are already diverging, because I’m fairly sure not everyone is going to view my assessment of each of these movies the same way, even though I feel like each of those really represents their categories perfectly. If films are doing what they should (being as accurate and true and fair to their source material, as well as offering up good entertainment to as many people who don’t know very much about said material), I don’t think the presence (or lack thereof) of minority filmmakers at a somewhat pretentious awards ceremony is a major concern. Although I do completely understand your sentiments here. That ‘Selma”s director is the only one representing color as far as the major categories go is pretty surprising to me.

    4) #3 is way too long.

    • 1) Not a problem mate, I haven’t been round your gaff in a while either. Barely time to scratch myself at the moment!

      2) Yeah man, they’ve stopped using Cadbury’s Dairy Milk for them and now just use some other kind of Cadbury’s chocolate. Unbelievable!

      3) I agree with you mate, it’s impossible to cover all bases all the time and I don’t think we really expect it of the Oscars anymore anyway, if we ever did. The Oscars is its own little bubble that people take way too seriously and holds far too much weight. Regardless of race, ethnicity, etc, just the fact that so many good films aren’t recognised shows that you have to take it all with a pinch of salt.

      4) The longer the better (oo er)

  4. Keith says:

    I’m just going to be blunt. Is it their duty to represent diversity? Absolutely not. Their duty should be to select the best movies or people for the category. Obviously it is often times subjective and we disagree with their choices. But if the Academy becomes obligated to represent to fill spots strictly due to skin color, etc. they lose even more credibility.

    As for this year, personally I wouldn’t have chosen Duvernay. I liked Selma but I think its few flaws were due to her direction. As for the acting performances, Oyelowo definitely deserved a Best Actor nomination, but so did Ralph Fiennes and Jake Gyllenhaal. I just dont think these things point to a prevalent problem with the Academy. I actually think the problem may lie outside of the Academy or the awards.

    • Totally agree with you there mate. If you start having a quota to fill then it does completely dilute the achievement. Would anyone really want to be nominated out of obligation? I would hope not.

      I haven’t seen Selma yet but I just can’t get excited for it based on so many lukewarm reviews. And yes, no nomination for Gyllenhaal is criminal!

  5. hybridZone says:

    This is a great topic, but I don’t really see the Oscars as the number film award in the world despite its popularity, it’s predominantly American and Hollywood is mostly run by Jewish Caucasians so it’s not much of a surprise to me anymore about the diversity of movies. I do think they are under a load of pressure though. Other movies from different ethnic backgrounds get celebrated in other parts of the world like the Cannes film festival, Goya awards, Silver Bear awards and many more

    • No that’s a very good point, we shouldn’t be too surprised by this really. The Oscars only ever represent a very small number of films out there anyway. It just so happens that the Oscars is the most prestigious in the media and in Hollywood itself

  6. movierob says:

    Great discussion choice Chris

    I think that it’s wrong to assume that the Academy needs to fill “minority slots” when voting on teh best in any category. That would just lessen the impact of their choices.

    Every year there are always “snubs” and this year, too many people felt that a movie abt MLK only getting 2 noms is a snub.

    I personally enjoyed Selma VERY Much, but movies are subjective and everyone gets something different out of every viewing experience of any movie.

    I thought that Oyelowo was great, but I guess the voting members thought 5 other actors were better.

    And thats the way the cookie crumbles; people get snubbed, but not everything is racial hatred.

    • I totally agree that would lessen the impact. It could just be that this year was a one off, I guess we’ll see that next year! A lot of people haven’t really liked Selma but because of the subject matter and time of year it’s been released, there seems to be a belief that it will automatically get nominated.

  7. jackdeth72 says:

    Hi, Terry:

    The studio industry may have an obligation for diversity. Though, I’m pretty sure their legions of corporate host lawyers would be more than willing to tie up any litigation for decades.

    The Academy has no responsibility or obligation for diversity or Affirmative Action. Since they judge lobbied projects to receive a tangible reward. If Sharpton and company wish argue a legitimate grievance. Those they represent had better put forth worthwhile, superior efforts and projects for consideration.

    ‘Annie’ is mediocre at best. And having been a kid during the time of the arguments and filibusters by Democrats against the Civil Rights Act and Martin Luther King. ‘Selma’ is a poor attempt to re-write history. Neither are what I would consider Oscar worthy.

    Securing my Soapbox.
    Carry on.

    • Some good points Jack! It’s an easy point to make that there isn’t enough diversity, but there are so many factors at play and I think people pay far too much attention to the Oscars anyway in terms of how important they are.

  8. I’m pretty sure this year was just an anomaly, like you said, and that next year will be different.

  9. Great questions with tough answers. What about Asians and Hispanic representations? It is a selective system and seems filtered by a confusing voting process. If a film is up for Best Picture, and there are no nominations for acting, that has me scratch my head; it makes me wonder why it’s up for Best Picture then. Just cinematography? The script? Whereas, take the film ‘Still Alice’ — Julianne gave a great performance within a mediocre film. Many times a great performance goes unrecognized compared to what’s nominated. Other times, it seems political and there’s something going on behind the curtain (Eastwood and Streep) as to why they are frequently/always nominated.

  10. Same old same old as far as I’m concerned. There are always omissions. It *should* be about the best movies, whatever stripe.

  11. Mark walker says:

    Hot topic for debate, my man! I often feel the Academy get it wrong but with this year, I think political correctness is getting a bit out of hand. I’m the first person to defend inequality but is it being forgetton that 12 Years a Slave was last years winner and a particular year both Denzel Washington and Halle Berry scooped Actor and Actress for roles they didn’t even deserve them for. Granted, I’ve not seen Selma so I can’t comment on the films quality but people are getting ahead of themselves here. Should we then consider that Edward Norton’s nomination for playing a neo-nazi in American History X as sign or support of racism? When has the academy’s judgement ever been sound? There are disappointments this year (I have many myself) but let’s not run too far ahead of ourselves here. Those that were chosen are still very strong candidates.

  12. Hunter says:

    We’ll never really know the reason behind the Academy’s choices, and because of this we can only speculate on whether the lack of diversity in the nominations is really due to a bias or just because they really didn’t feel any of the films focused on minorities deserved nominations. It really SHOULD be based purely on merit, but most people (I think) don’t believe the Academy reflects the best of the film industry anyway. I have personally come to believe it’s more based on how Hollywood wants itself to be represented, and as such it’s troubling that a film as critically acclaimed as Selma wasn’t seen in the director nominations. However, based on merit I have to agree with the Academy. Selma was a powerful film, but mostly due to the content and less due to the form. However, if people are really voting based on who/what best represents how they want to be viewed, it seems weird to leave her out of the picture. It seems like they want to be seen as a white man’s only club.
    Morgan has a very good point that “diverse” usually means a few black people and a couple of women outside the actress categories. That is far from true diversity, but hopefully things will get better in coming years and we won’t need to have this debate every year. There should be more films dealing with underrepresented groups, but not to fill quotas, just because they are interesting stories to be told. And minorities and women will be nominated more just because they are doing good work.

  13. sati says:

    No, they don’t. And the hysteria around Selma when it got BP nomination is frankly just annoying. People cannot blame the Academy that the industry doesn’t offer diverse roles. but let’s take a look at Fantastic Four and Thor – perhaps they do? Parts that were supposed to be played by Caucasians went to black people yet there is still so much whining. i assume it won’t stop until 4 out of 5 nominees are the people of color.

  14. Abbi says:

    Maybe if Hollywood started making more interesting films about women and people of colour this wouldn’t be an issue but most mainstream films are about white men. Until that changes any “push” for diversity would be tokenism.

  15. ruth says:

    I think until the members of the Academy itself represents diversity, it’s kind of impossible to expect that from the nominations. It’s not a simple issue whether they should nominate more people of color, and of course it should be based on merit, though I don’t think the nominations really represent the BEST anyway, it’s more about who they want to support. I think the larger issue is there’s simply a lack of projects done by and about women + people of color to even out the playing field. I think when that happens, perhaps there is a chance that the Academy members become more inclusive as a result.

  16. vinnieh says:

    I think the Academy should give awards out for merit and not based on gender, race or language.

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