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.