Sunday, February 28, 2016 marks the second year in a row that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – an academy comprised of mostly white men – have unexpectedly handpicked nominees to honor with top acting prizes, that are also mostly 100% white.
Understandably, after a winter season so ravenously plagued by El Niño, someone had to give the starlets of Tinseltown the White Christmas they so desperately dreamt of.
But many are not pleased with this rationale, and ever since the Academy announced that their nominations would be limited to the cast of Children of the Corn, there was an immediate outcry for their lack of inclusion and diversity.
It seems Hollywood has reached a breaking point, and those in the film-industry that have seen themselves, and their peers get shafted time and again – for work just as noteworthy as their Caucasian counterparts – are outright fed up. In fact, the excitement that typically surrounds the annual Academy Awards has been overshadowed by the recurrence of the #OscarsSoWhite movement, with some of Hollywood’s A-listers threatening to boycott the ceremony altogether, including Jada Pinkett-Smith: the spouse of an A-lister.
The oversight of diversity has not fallen solely on the Academy members’ shoulders, however, instead many are emphasizing the shortage of diverse films and roles being greenlit for production in the first place. Out of the hundreds of films produced in 2015, the Academy had but a handful of performances by people of color to choose to snub from, including Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation, Will Smith in Concussion, and Jason Mitchell in Straight Outta Compton. There were even less roles for diverse women; Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o as an unrecognizable, CGI character in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, or Emma Stone as the recognizably-white woman, portraying an Asian woman, in the movie Aloha. (To be fair, many white women roles have been pilfered by the very Puerto Rican Jennifer Lopez. Though she’s never convincing at playing one, they always do such a great job casting her white spouse and children.)
Nevertheless, Jennifer Lopez shouldn’t have to settle for the limited roles available to her; a Mexican, a maid, or an abused white woman. As a Puerto Rican, I am hopeful that one day we can add more Oscar winners to our lineage. To date, we have only 3: Jose Ferrer, Rita Moreno and Benicio del Toro. Therein lies a solution: as people of color, we need to create more opportunities of our own. Instead of waiting for Hollywood to come knocking every so often, we should be flooding it with works that reflect our own pools of talent.
McDaniel, Poitier, Goldberg, Freeman, Berry, Washington, Whitaker, Foxx, Hudson, and Nyong’o should no longer have to be pressured to win their well-earned honors alone – while their Caucasian comrades have the advantage of filling up every other nominated slot. At the same time, it will no longer be enough to just cry foul every time Marisa Tomei receives a golden statuette for the same exact role Rosie Perez perfected the year before. We will have to do even more of ‘showing ‘em what we got’ – by curating undeniable works of art, worthy of not just the Academy’s praise, acceptance and honor, but of our own.
At the end of the day, the 2016 Academy Awards aren’t honoring just any movie with a white person walking by (as cleverly parodied by SNL), and the films nominated are still those of great quality; Madea Goes to Jail is not getting snubbed in place of Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2. Make no mistake, there is a disparity problem, and Hollywood needs more voices of color in front of, and behind their cameras, but we need to be a part of the solution ourselves – and not wait for ‘them’ to fix it. And though John Singleton, Lee Daniels and Spike Lee are all solid examples of the extraordinary work diverse filmmakers continue to contribute, they cannot do it alone.
Indeed, many of the top slots this year are completely devoid of diversity, but Alejandro González Iñárritu, a dark-skinned Mexican, should not be overlooked for the recognition of his film the Revenant, with nominations for both Best Picture and Director.
As for those supposed A-listers (give us all a break Tyrese) who are taking part in a boycott of the Oscars this year, you will surely be missing out on the greatest performance of the entire year – by host Chris Rock. There is no one more brilliant, more prolific, more competent, or more prepared to take on #OscarsSoWhite, than the man who has brought us Pootie Tang. The Oscars does not get bigger, or blacker than this (at least not this year).