Superficial #OscarsSoWhite, Only a Sixth of Problem

Abel Tesfaye aka The Weeknd,
Oscar nominee for Best Original Song
On January 14, the nominations for the 88th Academy Awards were announced, and for the second year in a row, all the acting nominees were white or Caucasian. Protestors on social media like Twitter came up with the hash-tag #OscarsSoWhite, and immediately, people like Jada Pinkett Smith jumped on the bandwagon. She posted a video online denouncing the Academy. There was even some talk of a boycott.

Yes, there are no people of color in the acting categories. Yet, there are only four acting categories. The Oscars have a total of 24 categories. If you look at the other 20 categories, there are people of color nominated, mainly Hispanic and Asian people, but there are people of color. Because Hollywood is such an image-based industry, it's understandable why the focus is mainly on the actors, but it underscores how #OscarsSoWhite is a bit superficial and narrow-minded.

For Best Original Song, "Earned It" was nominated from the film Fifty Shades of Grey. Four songwriters are named for it, and three of them are men of color. Abęl Tesfaye whose stage name is The Weeknd is black-Canadian. Jason Daheala Quenneville is also black-Canadian and Ahmed Balshe is Palestinian-Canadian. The Weeknd recently won a Grammy Award for "Earned It," so his chances look somewhat good.

There are three, Mexican nominees, thanks to The Revenant. Alejandro González Iñárritu is up for Best Director. Emmanuel Lubezki aka Chivo is up for Best Cinematography. Martin Hernandez is up for Best Sound Editing. As the financier of The Revenant, Arnon Milchan is up for Best Picture. Milchan isn't Mexican though. He's actually Israeli.

For Best Animated Feature, Anomalisa is nominated and Rosa Tran who is Asian is listed for it as co-director and producer. Boy and the World is nominated and Alê Abreu who is Brazilian is listed as its director. When Marnie Was There is also nominated and Hiromasa Yonebayashi is listed as its animator-director along with Yoshiaki Nishimura as its producer, and both are Japanese.

For Best Costume Design, The Danish Girl is nominated and Paco Delgado is named. He's Spanish, hailing from the Canary Islands.

For Best Foreign Language Film, Ciro Guerra is the Colombian director for Embrace of the Serpent. Deniz Gamze Ergüven is the Turkish-French director for Mustang, as well as being one of the few female directors nominated, and Naji Abu Nowar is the British-Jordanian director for Theeb.

For Best Short Film, whether live-action, animated or otherwise, there are a lot of people of color who are nominated. Sharmeet Obaid-Chinoy is the Muslim-Pakistani filmmaker of A Girl in the River. Nomi Talismen is the Israeli artist who helped make Last Day of Freedom. Gabriel Osario is the Chilean animator and Pato Escala is the Chilean producer of Bear Story. Sanjay Patel is the American of Indian descent who directed Sanjay's Super Team, and Basil Khalil is the Israeli filmmaker of Ave Maria.

For Best Documentary Feature, Asif Kapadia is the British filmmaker of Indian descent who made Amy. Even though he's not a person of color, Joshua Oppenheimer did craft The Look of Silence, which is about people of color, specifically Indonesian people. Liz Garbus and Matthew Heineman aren't filmmakers of color but their films are about people of color, those films being What Happened, Miss Simone? and Cartel Land.

What Happened, Miss Simone? is about the legendary, black, jazz singer. Cartel Land is about drug gangs in Mexico, which focuses on a Mexican doctor-turned-paramilitary leader. Between this documentary, and the crew nominated for The Revenant, Mexico is well represented.

Alejandro González Iñárritu may win
Best Director two years in a row
However, by my count, there are 22 nominees of color throughout the various categories, just not for the four acting categories. There are absences in other categories, but with 22 nominees, the likelihood is high that a person of color will get a golden statue. It's probable that such a person will be Hispanic or Asian of some sort.

Not recognizing the most high-profile films centered on black people still is a travesty. Straight Outta Compton, which was #1 in the box office for four, non-consecutive weekends, got recognized by the Producers Guild Awards and the American Film Institute. Creed was also a box office success and a lot of reputable and critical organizations have acknowledged its amazing writing and direction. Beasts of No Nation won a Screen Actors Guild award for Idris Elba who was widely regarded as a likely nominee.

Sadly, Elba or any of the black people involved in Creed or Straight Outta Compton didn't get nominated. It can't be argued that they weren't awards-worthy when so many other groups recognized them, just not the Oscars.

It's one thing to argue that quality entertainment isn't available. This year, quality entertainment was available. The Academy simply ignored them. Bill Maher on his HBO series asked about the perception that Hollywood is a mostly left-wing or liberal community where mostly everybody is a Democrat and where racism doesn't exist. This perception is off.

People argue that because 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture for the 86th Oscars, that's proof Hollywood doesn't have a race relations problem. The Academy has been around for nearly 90 years and 12 Years a Slave is the only black film to win that top prize. A few have been nominated but only one has won, and if one believes that that somehow absolves the Academy of over 80 years of denial, it doesn't.

Clint Eastwood is not a left-wing or notably liberal guy. Yet, his films are regularly nominated for Oscars. His last film, American Sniper, was up for six awards, including Best Picture. People in the press talked about how much the Academy loves or idolizes Eastwood who is a conservative. Eastwood isn't racist or any kind of bigot. He's just an example that Hollywood isn't as left-leaning as people might think.

The President of the Academy is Cheryl Boone Isaacs. She's a black woman who worked as a publicity executive for many years. Upon the #OscarsSoWhite, she implemented changes to the voting rules. This followed changes she implemented in membership, all as a way of diversifying. I support these changes. A lot of people say that these changes aren't enough and that change needs to occur within the companies and studios that make films and hire actors and crew, but I feel that the Academy needs to stand as a beacon or guiding light.

Here's hoping it can. The 88th Academy Awards will air on Sunday, February 28.


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