Over the past week, I’ve been sitting and monitoring social media gauging the reactions to the Oscar nominations, because really it’s just free entertainment seeing people argue over who they subjectively believe should win the prestigious award in their respective categories. But recently I came across more and more people and articles saying that the awards are racist or pointless. It’s gotten so far that big Hollywood names such as Will and Jada Smith will be boycotting the event and even the nominated Mark Ruffalo has considered not attending. All of a sudden, the free entertainment and playful arguments have turned into something really serious that could potentially harm the film industry.
At the time of writing this article, I’ve seen about 98% of the films nominated for the major categories. But this piece isn’t about arguing whether or not certain actors do or do not deserve a nomination. While that’s all fun and good, in the end, film is an art form and it quite frankly caters to different tastes. So no, if you’re here expecting an in depth analysis on the performances and the films, and why one actor deserves a nomination over the other, you’ll have to look somewhere else. What I do want to address is the outrage that the Academy has received regarding their nominations, from the #OscarsSoWhite campaign, to the aforementioned boycotts, to the heated racially fueled war that is tearing the Internet apart, and why they’re all misplaced.
Let’s start in the Best Supporting Actor category. You have Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Mark Ruffalo and Sylvester Stallone. Yes, they’re all white. Now you have amazing performances from many other actors that have been left out, including those from people of colour such as Idris Elba. Does this mean that the Academy hates any actor that isn’t white? Absolutely not. Putting the past two years aside, historically there has almost always been a person of colour nominated, and rightfully so, for the Best Actor award. There is also no argument to be made that the actors who are currently nominated don’t deserve to be recognized. Every single one of these actors are extremely talented and they showcased it in their respective films, and this is agreed upon by critics and audiences alike. While a person of colour like Elba was spectacular in his film, Stallone was just as spectacular and so was everyone else in the category. Because the acting category nominations are limited to only 5 performances, there is always going to be someone cut off and this year there is no one on the list that you can point to and say, “He definitely does not deserve the nomination” and the majority of the general public agree. But that still doesn’t take away from the fact that they’re all white. There’s still a problem here, but it just doesn’t lie with the Academy.
I’ll admit it. When I first saw the nominations and their entire white cast, I had a knee jerk reaction. Yeah, I was angry. As someone who is not white, I’d love to see different races being represented and nominated for awards, just like how in Canada and America there are many different races who represent many different cultures. But after a few days I sat and really thought about it. I read some of the solutions that people were proposing. Two ideas that really bothered me were: “We’ll just segregate and make our own awards!” or “There should be a mandatory number of minorities for each category!” In fact, they bothered me more than the issue they were trying to address (which of course I still care about). How does removing people of colour from the equation all together, or even worse, forcing a person of colour into a category when they don’t belong solving the problem? In my opinion, it just makes things a whole lot worse.
“Even as I write this, I can count on one hand the number of high profile non-white performances this year. Conversely, I can easily list off the number of roles in Hollywood that should’ve gone to people of colour and instead were played by white actors.”
At this point I thought to myself, I don’t see any way that the Academy can improve on their system that they aren’t already doing (i.e. bringing in less pasty white old men as their members and bringing in younger, more diverse members). In fact, they just recently announced that they’re overhauling the voting system for next year’s Oscars to try and diversify the voting body. They’re not perfect, but they’re doing the best they can at the moment. I looked back at the year in film and immediately saw the problem. Even as I write this, I can count on one hand the number of high profile non-white performances this year. Conversely, I can easily list off the number of roles in Hollywood that should’ve gone to people of colour and instead were played by white actors.
Aloha. Pan. Exodus: Gods and Kings. These are three films that came out in the past year that have had high profile minority character roles go to white actors. I have absolutely nothing against the actors that took these roles (Emma Stone, Rooney Mara, Christian Bale) they’re all fantastic actors and, hopefully, fantastic people. But when you’re casting Emma Stone to play an Asian character named Allison Ng, there’s something wrong with the studio or the people behind the casting. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg and the whitewashed Oscar nominees are a symptom of this problem. Hollywood and the six major studios need to get their act together and start: 1) Casting more minorities in roles created for them and 2) Writing more roles that are cater to these actors. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I want all minority casts for every film out there; that’s a great disservice to the incredible white actors out there. I cannot stress enough that this is not a call for studios to only take minority actors for the sake of diversity thereby removing white actors from the system. This is about making new roles and opportunities, not taking them away from others.
So how do we go about this? Fixing this problem isn’t going to be easy. Hollywood has a long history and the way they do things doesn’t just change instantaneously. I also don’t think that any third party (i.e. government) should force them into anything; this change has to come from within their own ranks. Something like the NFL’s Rooney Rule would really help here, where franchises are mandated (by the organization) to see minorities and people of colour in the application process. They don’t necessarily have to hire them, but giving them the opportunity and opening those doors goes a long way. Same thing could happen with the major studios. But hey, what do I know?