Oscar Nominations Lack of Diversity in the Spotlight Again – Ignites Calls for Boycott

The current uproar vibrating in the film industry echoes last year’s furor: the list of Oscars nominees for this year, as it was last year, lacks diversity. This lack of diversity in the 2016 Oscar Awards nominations has also ignited calls for a boycott of the awards ceremony next month by black entertainers.

An infographic shared by Entertainment Weekly shows the diversity makeup of the 2016 Oscars nominees: 95.3% White; 2.3% Asian and Hispanic/Latino. African Americans are not represented at all.

This controversy comes at the heel of the recent Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a national holiday in honor of America’s foremost Civil Rights activist and hero who fought for racial equality through his non-violent resistance movement until his life was cut short by an assassin’s bullet.

Significant Voices of Discontent in Hollywood

Spike Lee, a Hollywood Black director, producer, actor, and writer, criticized the Oscars nominations for being too white two years in a row and called for affirmative action to address the problem of racial diversity in Hollywood. 

He was earlier reported as planning to boycott the awards ceremony, but later reports quoted him as saying he never used the word “boycott.” Lee sent his message to the Academy via his Instagram account where he wrote he would not be attending the Oscar Awards ceremony, for neither he nor his wife “cannot support the lily white” awards show.

Nevertheless, his criticism over the non-inclusion of African American actors in this year’s nominations, just as it was last year, was echoed by other Hollywood celebrities as well.

Stars who have lent their voices against the lack of diversity in the Oscars nominations include actress Jada Pinkett Smith, who said through her video message on Facebook she would not be attending nor watching the ceremony. She made the announcement on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Jada’s actor husband Will Smith who had been expected to win a nomination for his role in the film “Concussion” did not receive a nod.

Actor George Clooney likewise joined in the discussion and noted there was more diversity 10 years ago saying, “I don’t think it’s a problem of who you’re picking as much as it is how many options are available to minorities in film, particularly in quality films.”

Lupita Nyong’o, who made history as the 2013 Academy Award Best Supporting Actress, said she was “disappointed by the lack of inclusion in this year’s Academy Awards nominations. […] I stand with my peers who are calling for change in expanding the stories that are told and recognition of the people who tell them.”

Producer of Straight Outta Compton, Will Parker, weighed in through his Facebook post, saying the lack of diversity was “embarrassing.” 

The Rev. Al Sharpton wants Americans to “tune out” the Awards next month.

Academy Response to Oscar Nominations Criticism

Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the Academy’s first African American and third woman president, said she too was “heartbroken and frustrated” at the nominations’ lack of diversity this year and pledged to work on the Academy’s diversity issue. 

While expressing sadness over the lack of inclusion of people of color among the nominees, Isaacs acknowledged the “extraordinary achievements” of those nominated. Isaacs vowed that the Academy would “conduct a review of our membership recruitment in order to bring about much-needed diversity in our 2016 class and beyond.” 

In her lengthy statement in response to the nominations controversy, Isaacs compared the period in the 60s and 70s when “it was about recruiting younger members to stay vital and relevant. In 2016, the mandate is inclusion in all of its facets: gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.”

Diversity in the Academy Membership 

The profile of Academy members is mostly white and male, although, under the leadership of Boone Isaacs, efforts have been made to increase diversity, such as inviting a greater number of people who could help in the diversity initiative of the Academy to become members. 

Invitations were given in 2015 to women, foreign-born artists, and people of various races, ethnic backgrounds, and ages, according to Variety. This is most important in diversifying the Academy’s membership, as most Academy members have voting rights for the Awards.

Based on a profile study made of Academy members in 2012, 94% of the voting body was White, 77% of the voters were male, and only a dismal 2% made up the Black members. As many observe, it is the membership make-up of the Academy, and to a greater extent, the make-up of Hollywood itself that influences the Oscar Award nominations’ diversity – or lack of it.

Credit should be given to Boone Isaacs for her diversity push, but others are still yearning for more tangible results. The Academy should reflect the makeup of the entire nation, not just one homogenous part of it.

Hollywood Beset With Lack of Diversity 

Job opportunities for women and minorities, both in front of and behind the scenes, have long been dismal. In a recent study by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, only a little progress was noted regarding the gender makeup of Hollywood directors, writers, producers, editors, and cinematographers, with an increase that only matched that in 2001. 

The study also found that in 2015, women did not have as much challenge being producers as they did being directors and cinematographers.  In general, only 19% of women held top jobs behind the scenes.

Another study, the 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA analyzed the bottom line in the American film industry, covering the period 2012-2013. It showed minorities are still largely under-represented in many Hollywood jobs despite having posted some gains. They posted small to modest gains according to this study.

As the country’s population continues to become more diverse, minorities – who, in 2013, comprised 40% of the population – are expected to become the majority. But from lead roles to film directors, writers, and other behind-the-scenes jobs, minorities were outnumbered.

One significant finding of the study is that film and TV shows that reflected the nation’s ethnic and racial diversity were more likely to become successful at the box office. It concludes by saying there is a “disconnect” between the still prevalent marginalization of women and minorities in Hollywood and what the growing diverse American audiences want – to see more diverse content. As it says: “diversity sells.” 

Part of the problem could be the conflict of interests between individual stakeholders, mostly white and male, and institutional interests. It is not a simple problem to fix, but one solution, among many, seen by the researchers is for guilds to “increase access and professional development for minorities and women.”

The Challenge: More Action, Less Talk

 With today’s diversity issue plaguing the film and television industry, the Academy must implement more action. Some suggest a change in the membership system of the Academy or in the balloting system. The call for a boycott is a divisive issue as well since not every black entertainer agrees with it, and some have remained silent about the matter.

The bottom line: Efforts for diversity and inclusion should continue taking prominence. Films have a strong influence on culture. Films are not only for the public’s entertainment, but they are also excellent tools or resources for teaching values, such as diversity and inclusion.