Expect #OscarsSoWhite to start trending again today after the shameful lack of minority representation in the Oscar nominations: all 20 acting nominees are white for the second year in a row. On the plus side, women are better represented than they were last year. However academy members, and by extension the entirely Hollywood film industry, are still woefully behind the curve.
As many often counter when the academy is accused of bigotry, the Oscars aren’t racist or sexist in and of themselves. Their choices are reflective of what the industry produces, promotes and praises. When Viola Davis made history by winning an Emmy for “How to Get Away with Murder” last year, she pointed out, “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.” The same is true at the Oscars, where there were precious few prestige films by or about people of color.
The Oscars did nominate two predominantly black films, but they only nominated white people for them: Best Supporting Actor nominee Sylvester Stallone for “Creed” and a quartet of white writers for “Straight Outta Compton.” In those cases the academy seemed to almost go out of its way to cherry-pick white talent.
No, I don’t think voters consciously decided to filter out people of color from those films when marking their ballots, but the fact of the matter is that Stallone was considered more worthy of notice than his co-stars Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson and his writer-director Ryan Coogler, and that the white writers of “Straight Outta Compton” trumped that film’s black producers, actors and director. Whether or not there’s conscious bias in voters, the bias is there nevertheless.
True, the academy’s different branches vote for nominees in their respective peer-group categories, so the writers branch wasn’t in a position to reward “Straight Outta Compton” for directing or acting, but all branches vote for Best Picture.
When it comes to representing women, the Oscars did slightly better, but there was nowhere to go but up after last year’s overwhelmingly male nominations slate. Only one of last year’s eight Best Picture nominees had a female lead: Felicity Jones in “The Theory of Everything,” but her role focused on her dedication to her genius husband, Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne). This time around we get three out of eight films driven by women: “Brooklyn,” “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Room.”
That’s almost half, so the Oscars’ gender problem is almost solved, right? No. Both “Mad Max” and “Room” have male co-leads, while none of the other five male-driven Best Picture contenders (“Bridge of Spies,” “Spotlight,” “The Big Short,” “The Martian” and “The Revenant“) have female co-leads. The only nominee with a woman exclusively front and center is “Brooklyn,” and it has the fewest total nominations of any of these eight films.
What’s more, all eight Best Picture nominees are directed by men. All but one (“Room”) are written by men. And out of 24 nominated producers up for the top prize, only seven are women.
Also consider the two writing awards, Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay, where there are a total of 20 scribes in contention for 10 movies, but only four of them are women.
What makes these statistics more frustrating is how far behind the Oscars are even compared to the rest of the entertainment industry. Consider last year’s Emmys, where female-driven programs won Best Comedy (“Veep“), Best TV Movie (“Bessie“), Best Miniseries (“Olive Kitteridge“) and Best Variety Sketch Series (“Inside Amy Schumer“). Two female directors also won Emmys, and four people of color won acting awards.
At last year’s Tonys, three out of four productions to win top honors had female lead characters (new musical “Fun Home” and revivals “The King and I” and “Skylight“). Best Book and Best Score were both won by women (for “Fun Home” in both cases). One of the directing awards went to a woman as well (Marianne Elliott for “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”). And there were four people of color among the acting nominees and one among winners (Asian-American Ruthie Ann Miles for “The King and I”).
Women are also well represented at the Grammys, where two female artists are up for Album of the Year (Taylor Swift and Alabama Shakes lead singer Brittany Howard), five female songwriters are up for Song of the Year, and three out of five Best New Artist contenders are women too. Women and people of color also lead the nominations with Kendrick Lamar (11) and The Weeknd and Swift (seven) at the top of the heap.
None of those other awards is perfect. There’s a long way to go before we can claim there is just representation throughout the entertainment industry both front and center and behind the scenes, but it’s striking how demonstrably worse the film industry and Oscars are than the other three prongs of the EGOT. Six years after Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”) made history for female directors and two years after “12 Years a Slave” broke new ground for people of color, the Oscars have gone backwards and stayed there.
It’s ironic that Chris Rock is hosting the awards this year – or perhaps fitting. He’ll be one of the few people of color with an opportunity to take the stage, so I hope he uses that platform to make a point of it.
What do you think will win Best Picture?
Make your Oscar predictions using the menu to the right or below.
Photo Credits: “Beasts of No Nation” by Netflix; “Creed” by Warner Bros. Pictures; “Carol” by the Weinstein Company