While several women were nominated in the screenplay category for the 88th Annual Academy Awards, none were nominated in the directing category. After last year's Oscar nominees had no females in screenwriting or directing categories, the news from the Samuel Goldwyn Theater on January 14th felt like a step forward regarding gender issues.
Not so on the matter of race. In the acting categories, for example, every nominee is white. No doubt anticipating this reality, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been working on diversity in other areas: the president is black, the host of this year's Oscar ceremony is black, and Spike Lee was given the Governor's Award last year. We are told they are also inviting a more diverse pool of members into the fold. But these efforts fall short.
Only seven years old, the Governor's Award is problematic in and of itself. In some ways, it appears to be a way for the Academy to fix its mistakes and make up for its diversity ills. Lee understands this point. When he was given the award, he said, "By the year 2043, white Americans are going to be a minority in this country. And all you people out there in the position of hiring, you better get smart. Because your work force should reflect what this country looks like.”
Lee then went on to say, “Everybody in here probably voted for Obama, but when I go to offices, I see no black folks except for the brother man at the security who checks my name off the list as I go into the studio. So we can talk, ‘yada yada yada,’ but we need to have some serious discussion about diversity and get some flavor up in this.”
According to Nicole Sperling, writing for Entertainment Weekly, Academy president "Cheryl Boone Isaacs announced a new initiative, called A2020, a five-year plan to actively increase diversity in Hollywood and she asked for the leaders in the room – and all the studio heads were there – to help her." But she made a similar speech last year, and we have seen very little change.
Tweeting her frustrations, Jada Pinkett Smith wrote, "At the Oscars...people of color are always welcomed to give out awards...even entertain. But we are rarely recognized for our artistic accomplishments." She then asked, "Should people of color refrain from participating all together?" One wonders.
According to Cara Buckley, writing for The New York Times, "Chief among the surprise omissions this year were Idris Elba, projected to get a best supporting actor nomination for his performance as an African warlord in 'Beasts of No Nation'; Michael B. Jordan, the shining lead boxer of 'Creed'; and the biopic 'Straight Outta Compton,' about the seminal rappers N.W.A. The star of 'Concussion,' Will Smith, had also been considered a possible nominee. Yet 'Concussion' was overlooked entirely; the only nomination for 'Creed' went to a supporting actor, Sylvester Stallone; and 'Compton' landed just one nomination, for its white writers."
Shonda Rhimes has wrestled television into the forefront of inclusion while film lags behind. Likewise, the Emmy Awards embraced a more diverse field of nominees, including such actors as Queen Latifah, David Oyelowo, Anthony Anderson, Don Cheadle, Taraji P. Henson, and Viola Davis. In other words, television leads, but the film industry does not follow.
We look forward to the actions of the so-called A2020 movement, but we are no longer hopeful for quick or enduring change.