This year’s Oscar nominations have caused controversy due to their lack of diversity. They’re not institutionally racist, argues this writer. They’re simply meritocratic.
The Oscars have always been a fairly controversial awards ceremony, and none more so than this year’s awards. It started with the announcement of the latest nominees, leading to the accusation from famous stars such as Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith that “people of colour” were being “rarely recognised” by an “institutionally racist” Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. These individuals are incandescent with rage that this year, not a single nomination has gone to non-white, minority actors.
This is ridiculous. If this was so, then the president of the academy would be deliberately seeking to discriminate against her own race, due to the fact that she is an African American herself. President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, who has been at the head of the organisation since 2013, has prided herself on minority involvement, working to ensure that every citizen has their work correctly displayed and awarded by her organisation. Within the academy, she has ensured that positions are filled with directors who are open minded and passionate about diversity. In the 21st century I would question the fact that Mrs Isaacs has been instructing those on the nomination bodies to actively discriminate. Just because no black individuals have been nominated for the leading acting awards does not mean the organisation is ‘‘institutionally racist’’.
Another interesting point to note is the fact that over 6,000 academy members will take part in the voting. It’s highly unlikely that these people would not want to see the best person take the award. They are not “racists’’ or ‘‘bigots’’; they are lovers of film who want to ensure that the best films always win and take the honours.
The host of the awards, actor and comedian, Chris Rock, is an African American, and has yet to comment on the specifics of the situation, even though he is facing pressure from all sides. If this organisation was so institutionally racist, would they also appoint a black individual to present the awards? The host of the awards ceremony is the person that is most remembered at the end of the night. Why would the academy want you to remember this individual if they were racist?
Meanwhile, the film with the most nominations this year is The Revenant. With 12 nominations overall, it is the latest title to come from Alejandro González Iñárritu, closely followed by Mad Max: Fury Road, with 10 nominations. These films are arguably the greatest films of the year, and the academy wants to recognise everybody who played a vital part with these irrespective of race or creed. It is not possible though to recognise every person in the two leading nomination categories (Best Actor and Best Actress) – that’s why there are 24 nomination categories, with only eight of these categories recognising individuals for their work.
In order to satisfy the critics, the academy has now announced that its new goal is to “double the number of diverse members by 2020”. This is a strange announcement, given that the organisation originally took a strong stand – this seems like an admission of guilt and wrongdoing. If one overlooks that bizarre fact for one second, then this is a positive step – the academy clearly values diversity and has taken steps after listening to public pressure.
The awards on 28th February are set to be an exciting event; it will be interesting to see if the “boycott” does take effect. Such a boycott of this scale has never taken place in the past, so the potential for embarrassment here is monumental. The Oscars are an occasion to celebrate the best of Hollywood showbiz and recognise those who truly deserve them. But now, they are threatened by hollow moral vanity, positive discrimination and tokenism. Let’s not forget what the Oscars should be about: talent.
These are the views of the writer and are in no way shared by the editors