#OscarsSoWhite: Why Are We Surprised?

I am late getting into 2016, but holy shit!!! what a year it has been so far. It’s insane. But alas, it’s that time of year again when the nominations for awards go up and out for all the work that people have done in film and media for the last year. Most recently, everyone…

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I am late getting into 2016, but holy shit!!! what a year it has been so far. It’s insane. But alas, it’s that time of year again when the nominations for awards go up and out for all the work that people have done in film and media for the last year. Most recently, everyone is talking about the Oscars, because as usual, all the pivotal, critically acclaimed films with Black leads were snubbed.

After hearing this news, I feel compelled to ask, were you really that surprised? This is a pattern that happens every year. Black people do great work in Film but they rarely win. Seriously. In the history of the Academy Awards, Halle Berry is literally the only Black woman that ever won Best Actress in a Leading Role. Black men seem to fare a little better but not by much.

In the last few years, It’s arguably worse, because even though Black actors and actresses rarely won in the past, lately they’re not even nominated in most categories. It’s like the Academy decided no Black person must be nominated for anything this year (with the Exception of the Weeknd for “Best Original Song”). All of this despite the massive critical acclaim and box office successes. Literally every film I reviewed last year was eligible, and not a single one got nominated. If you don’t believe me, I will pause so you can check. Films I talked about last year: DOPE, Straight Outta Compton, and Concussion vs. eligible films according to the Academy. Not to mention the ones that I didn’t review like Beast of No Nation and Star Wars.

We all talk a good bit about diversity in film and TV and for the most part, all of that is improving with the exception of the Oscars. To be honest, I’m not surprised that everything turned out like this. The voting pool for the Oscars is more than 90% White and 77% male. Basically, it makes the Oscars an awards ceremony where White men congratulate themselves on their phenomenal accomplishments in the medium of film. That’s not to say that it’s not well deserved, because it quite emphatically is. However, there is no denying what the impact of the voting pool pool is on how the nomination results turn out. When you put up those demographics against the fact that a category like Best Picture can have up to 10 films but only lists 8, which all star White leads, and 5 of which are male, it becomes clear that the awards care little about anyone else.

And why would they? It’s basic psychology. Everybody has a bias that norms towards themselves. It’s why people don’t think they have an accent until they travel somewhere and others point it out. It’s the same reason that makes you more likely to ascribe positive attributes yourself and people you share things in common with generally. So when an organization tells you that they are mostly White and mostly male, they’re also telling you that their likely preferences will be for things that are close to that. If you doubt it, take a serious look at the numbers. This is the 88th Academy Awards. Hattie McDaniels won the award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in 1939, making her the first Black person ever to win an Oscar. No other black person in that category won until Whoopi Goldberg in 1990. That’s 50 years!! The implication is that in 50 years of filmmaking, no black woman was good enough to win abi?

Even without the psychology of it all, there is a lot of politics associated with awards shows. Hell, on the Oscars website, there are rules and regulations for how to campaign for your film to win, so it’s not entirely about merit. Sometimes, it’s about making the rounds and doing all these things that the Academy wants in order to better your odds of winning. That’s likely one of the reasons that even a talented White person like Leonardo DiCaprio can’t win the Oscars.

Bottom line, this shit sucks, but we can’t really be surprised that something like this happened. Personally, I will most likely not be watching the Oscars. I have a general rule against watching awards shows, but the disingenuous nature of the the Oscars voting pool practices makes far less likely to watch it. What do you think? Please use the comment box to express you. 

Responses

  1. MADU
    Leonardo, Leonardo. The nigga (yes nigga) is talented. However, I think he’s not cool with Men behind the Oscars.There’s something we don’t know. Trust me.

    I’m not a bit surprised about this outcome anyway. African-Americans know what they go through in the States and Europe. The discrimination!

    They try to send the message across to we folk here in Africa and other parts of the world through music (2pac, Michael Jackson, DMX…etc) and movies (12 Years A Slave, Django…etc)…but we so taken away, thinking it’s all entertainment and trends to follow.

    Talking about Chiwetel Ejiofor clinching the award for his performance in ’12 Years A Slave’, I was disgusted. He won an award for playing a Slave. Yep, that’s how I see it. Is that the only outstanding lead role that has been performed by an African-American in the last decade? C’mon, there are ways to convey messages…”Black Lives Don’t Matter” to them.

    The ones we hear in the news?
    The constant shooting of young UNARMED African-American boys by white policemen. They claim it’s always a mistake. And I wonder how these bullets are so attracted to brown-skinned people. Shey we be bullet magnet? Yet, cases of young and ARMED white boys who pull off massacres in communities are treated mildly.

    This post nice but it also just burnt a brain chip. Can’t spoil my Monday.

    1. MADU
      I avoid calling African-Americans ‘Black’. The whites are not even ‘White’. For God’s sake, there’s so much meaning in a name.

      *Pardon my typo-errors

  2. Larz
    Overall, I do believe that Oscars is just so white it is ridiculous esp. last year. There were quite a lot of really good black movies that shud have won something but didn’t.

    However, most movies you listed, I just cant imagine them winning an Oscar. I personally dont think we had enuf materials in 2015 to compete at Oscars level- but thats my personal opinion sha
    Dope is deep but it is not mainstream enough in my own opinion, straight outta compton (I didnt watch but those that did had mixed reviews. I suspect those that liked it the most did becuz it was telling stories about their fave artists), beast of no nation was awesome (shud have won something but there is something missing about the production of that movie, I cant really put my finger onto it. It started on a really high note, ended on a great note but something was missing in the middle. The only review I have on concussion so far is from you so no comment yet on that.

    Whilst I dont think 2015 was a hit movie wise for black artists, I believe several years of being sidelined by white Oscars can make it difficult for serious artists to come out of the woodwork and even if they do, they might struggle to get proper funding/ big budgets to deliver unless they start getting their well deserved recognition. Oscars and the Hollywood industry have failed black talents who have so much to offer but are being held back. Quite unfortunate

    1. Omotola Ajibade Post author
      I disagree. I think we had wonderful material. When you look at Critics ratings, movies made by black people were definitely very comparable.

      Spike Lee has been fighting very publicly with studios over funding for films for years. This is not new. As more black artists and creators gain prominence, this is a problem that is going to need to be addressed at the executive level.

  3. butterflymind
    That’s why we have the BET awards, right? 😀

    On a serious not though, if you want a black to win, you’ve got to act something that preys on the guilt of the white fellas or makes the blacks look like savages.
    It happens in movies all the time.
    It happens in literature too.

    I say screw the awards. But I’m rooting for Leo in Revenant and Inside Out 🙂

    1. Omotola Ajibade Post author
      I agree. But why does that have to be the only kind of story we tell? Are we not more than singular stories about slavery, white saviors, and guilt?

      P.S. The Daily Show with Trevor Noah agrees with your sentiment. I’ve tried sending the clip of their take on this situation to people apparently, it doesn’t play in Naija…..le sigh

  4. Omali
    If your movie is great, then your movie is great. No one can take that away from any of the producers, directors, actors, etc .. that were part of these movies. Awards are not the be-all and end-all of life. What if a award is never won. Does that lessen the work or time put into the film or downgrade the movie? No. This is not significant.
    1. Omotola Ajibade Post author
      You’re right that awards aren’t everything, but evidence shows that they definitely do a lot for the film’s bottom line. See this article for the breakdown:http://www.bidnessetc.com/business/the-oscar-effect-an-economic-breakdown-of-the-academy-awards/

      Your movie stands to gain greater recognition, influence, and more sales, both by being nominated and by winning. So when you stand the opportunity of a possible 21% increase in your profit margin, you would definitely feel some type of way about not getting nominated despite the fact that every factor of merit was in your favor.

  5. Einsteinette
    I think the movies you mentioned are normal, nothing new, drugs…street… same lines. I get that there are processes required to win an Oscar but don’t make it race-based, else we wouldn’t move forward stuck in that thinking pattern.
    1. Omotola Ajibade Post author
      I’m not saying that we deserve to be nominated because we’re black. Absolutely nobody is saying that. Everybody is saying that they deserve to be nominated because their good. Objectively so. Look through every rating scale you can find and you can see it for yourself. The only distinguishing feature of the movies that weren’t included is that they are mainly about or by black people. If that becomes a criterion for exclusion (which is definitely what it looks like), then there’s a major problem. What happens next year if bunch of latinos make films with the kind of social impact that Straight Outta Compton had or what if Asian Americans do the same thing and they get black balled? The academy is sending two very diametrically opposing messages if these practices continue.
    1. MADU
      A piece from Spike Lee to the Oscars:

      “It’s No Coincidence I’m Writing This As We Celebrate The 30th Anniversary Of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Birthday. Dr. King Said “There Comes A Time When One Must Take A Position That Is Neither Safe, Nor Politic, Nor Popular But He Must Take It Because Conscience Tells Him It’s Right”. For Too Many Years When The Oscars Nominations Are Revealed, My Office Phone Rings Off The Hook With The Media Asking Me My Opinion About The Lack Of African-Americans And This Year Was No Different. For Once, (Maybe) I Would Like The Media To Ask All The White Nominees And Studio Heads How They Feel About Another All White Ballot. If Someone Has Addressed This And I Missed It Then I Stand Mistaken.
      As I See It, The Academy Awards Is Not Where The “Real” Battle Is. It’s In The Executive Office Of The Hollywood Studios And TV And Cable Networks. This Is Where The Gate Keepers Decide What Gets Made And What Gets Jettisoned To “Turnaround” Or Scrap Heap. This Is What’s Important. The Gate Keepers. Those With “The Green Light” Vote. As The Great Actor Leslie Odom Jr. Sings And Dances In The Game Changing Broadway Musical HAMILTON, “I WANNA BE IN THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENS”. People, The Truth Is We Ain’t In Those Rooms And Until Minorities Are, The Oscar Nominees Will Remain Lilly White.

      1. Larz
        I agree with Spike Lee. It grows further than Oscars. Put black people in position of power and invest some real money in our projects. A lot of our movies are medium budgets at best unless it is a story that the general public sympathise with like slavery etc
        1. thetoolsman
          Err.. “put” black people where now? Who’s going to do that? If our so called successful brethren in the entertainment industry would rather buy bentleys and fur coats instead of investing in production companies, whose fault? Oh, and before you mention Tyler Perry, well yes, we thank God for him. He has made something of himself but look at the kind of movies he decided to dedicate his company to – but I don’t fault the man, at least he’s not complaining about the Oscars.

          Im currently watching every single movie that was nominated for the Oscars this year like I do every year and I must say this is one of the best collection I’ve seen in a while. Even the Beast of No Nation we are all talking about, minus the kid, I dont think anyone was stand out enough for the Oscars when you place them side by side with the competition.

          I saw the trailer for Terrence J’s new “black movie” the other day and I ranted on Twitter how disgusted I felt. Like, dude left E! to go make the same old rom coms we’ve seen over and over. Yes, there’s a market for it and it’s his business really but there are rom coms and there are ROM COMS – after all, some have been nominated for Oscars and trust me, it had nothing to do with colour or race. Neither does it have much to do with budget. Trumbo is a story based on events in the US back in the early 90’s, in Nigeria alone we have more than enough stories from back then that haven’t been told. Stories that will shock the world if they get out. Stories you dont need billions to tell. What is stopping black Hollywood from coming back to their roots to get those stories? Let’s all just leave sentiments and focus one real problems and I hope someday, we’ll be able to solve them.

          1. Larz
            Yes we need to create our own production company. However, diversity and inclusion means you have senior management (not just employees) to be representative of the society. We have asked the top blue chip companies and goverment to have a solid plan to make sure that their management team is diverse. Why cant we ask the same of the Hollywood industry?

            Besides, the point of production company is a little moot- there are also barriers to entry or at least to growth to big boy / industry impacting level. We need an environment that has a defined set of rules on how to be successful (hard work, brown nosing etc) that any that meets those criteria would be rewarded for their good work either as an enterprenuer (production company) or an employee into management. The lie of the American dream is that it fails to include the fact that it is only attainable to middle (and above) class, middle aged white male who aim to preserve and pass it on to their offsprings.

          2. Larz
            Obviously, by put black ppl in position of power, I mean talented people that are capable of doing the job. I believe we do have some of those
          3. Blessing Abeng
            MY BROTHER!!! All I’ve been saying, at least Beast of no Nation helped us see an angle of wars that we never saw before, the trauma of a child after all said and done. We need something fresh and worth the nomination, let the world fight for “the blacks” like we fight for “Leonardo Di Caprio” and not always fault race when they are not good enough.
  6. Katniss
    I agree with Larz and Einsteinette. I read through eager to see what black American movies were passed over but I didn’t see any(haven’t seen Concussion so I’ll get back to you on that) Imagine if the whites had come up with a White Entertainment Television Awards(WET) all hell woulda broken loose. If the Oscars are ‘too white’, its probably because a large proportion of the big budget movies are white. Therefore I see how the Spike Lee argument comes into play. Your article makes it seem like they should give black actors awards in every category every couple of years just so we don’t get angry.
    And why wasn’t this dissatisfaction also directed at the Golden Globes?
    1. Omotola Ajibade Post author
      I have never said that and will never say that. I am generally not about sentiment. I strive for objectivity. That’s why I painstakingly back up my writings with stats and context. Black people don’t deserve to get nominated for being black, they deserve to get nominated for being good at what they do. And the reality is that the selection pool at the Oscars is not representative of how the general public and critics alike judges a lot of films that were shunned. If Black people have this problem, imagine what it must be like for Asian Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanics in film and television.
  7. Saul Goodman
    Honestly of all the movies starring majority blacks, its Beast of no Nation that could stake a challenge. Look at the nominated movies, they ain’t crap o. They’ve got excellent script which relate with a wider audience, carrying no sentiment or malice. Yes budgets matter as Spike Lee notes, but hey there’s more to a good movie than budget. If anything, this posit will suit last year’s Oscars were there was better material from blacks to voice discontent. But this year,,, bleh.
    1. Blessing Abeng
      Yeah!!! Beast of No Nation is the only movie that stood out for me. If it hurts us so much, let’s start our own version of Oscars where we can award our own movies. I feel we are being too emotional and it’s blinding our eyes to the best way forward. We would get better. Does race also explain Leonardo Di Caprio’s ‘Oscarless’ lifetime even when we know he deserves it?
      1. Saul Goodman
        Loud it!
        Leonardo should give up acting or boycott the awards, since he’s been looked over too many times. Now I’m thinking: if roles were reversed and the Oscar voters were majorly colored, will the white man revolt or try to out do himself at the next offing? If WE can’t trust the screening panel because they are predominantly white, then we have issues. It’s not like WE haven’t won before or your material was passed over in favor of mediocre films.
        Have y’all seen Bridge of Spies or Big Short? Let me not sound geeky when I say I adore The Martian for its “precog” storyline.
        Honestly I thought WE were beyond color. This is like MLK struggle all over again, but for a cause I can’t put a finger on
        1. Omotola Ajibade Post author
          Have you seen US news lately, of course we’re not beyond issues of color and race! Don’t get me started on the many ways the legacies of discrimination still affect Black America today.
          1. Blessing Abeng
            Yes dear, I believe we are not but these are not what we should be fighting for. We always leave the main point and get distracted. We blacks are our problem and we like to blame everything/everyone but ourselves. If you hear our history well, we sold ourselves for shots of whisky. We designed the chains that bound our people and till today we still live in that 5second pleasure and still bow to the white man! Truth is we are just slaves in a glass cup turned upside down. I mean, you are currently looking for validation from the white man for Oscars, what is Oscars compared to the slavery we are in, from our minds, to hair, to gender, to culture, to jobs, clothes… don’t get me started.
          2. Omotola Ajibade Post author
            In relation to your point about Black people our own worst enemies, I think that’s a rather simplistic view of things. I’m not denying that there is something to be said for Black Africans who profiteered off the slave trade, but there is a lot more at work than Black Africans simply selling off our own kind for whisky. However, since this post is about the Oscars, let’s focus on that. If you would like to exchange ideas about Slavery, the middle passage, and the history of European geopolitical influence on global consciousness, find me on twitter @mythicvoice
      2. Omotola Ajibade Post author
        Please note the following excerpt from my piece:

        Even without the psychology of it all, there is a lot of politics associated with awards shows. Hell, on the Oscars website, there are rules and regulations for how to campaign for your film to win, so it’s not entirely about merit. Sometimes, it’s about making the rounds and doing all these things that the Academy wants in order to better your odds of winning. That’s likely one of the reasons that even a talented White person like Leonardo DiCaprio can’t the Oscars.

        1. Blessing Abeng
          If they want to win, they should follow the regulations for their campaign (This feels like Lil Kesh and Reekado Banks all over again). There is politics everywhere… even our Nigeria here, hiw many people get things strictly by merit. Let’s stop pointing fingers biko. If we can’t do anything, let’s leave it and focus on what we can do something about.
    1. Omotola Ajibade Post author
      I think you’re joking, but on the off chance you’re not, let’s just state for the record that Black people in America really don’t riot often. When they do, it’s usually related to matters of Civil Rights and Social Injustice. White people riot for as little as winning or losing a sporting event.

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