Why Hollywood's Diversity Issues Go Deeper Than Oscars 'Whiteout'

By Mendoza, Jessica | The Christian Science Monitor, January 15, 2016 | Go to article overview

Why Hollywood's Diversity Issues Go Deeper Than Oscars 'Whiteout'


Mendoza, Jessica, The Christian Science Monitor


This year's all-white acting Oscar nominations have once more provoked an outcry over the lack of recognition given to people of color in Hollywood - a view that echoes controversy from the previous awards season. (See #OscarsSoWhite.)

In 2015, pundits set their sights on the Academy itself, a club "older and more dude-heavy than just about any place in America," as The Atlantic's Derek Thompson put it.

But while the voting body of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences continues to draw criticism for its "great male whiteness," experts and advocates are now also underscoring a more fundamental lack of diversity in the structure of film and television - even as they acknowledge the headway the industry has made over the past decade.

"Undeniably, there has been progress," says Darnell Hunt, director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies and a professor of sociology at the University of California in Los Angeles. "But [that] progress has not kept up with America. The gap between where we are as a society and the industry is increasing.

"Nirvana would be when the studios and executive suites themselves become diverse," he adds. "That's when we'll say there's success."

This year's nominees, released Thursday, featured titles like "The Revenant," "The Martian," and "Mad Max: Fury Road," for the best picture category. Conspicuously missing, some say, were films like "Straight Outta Compton" and "Creed," which - unlike the movies that did make the list - starred black lead actors.

The same pattern emerges among the nominees for Best Actor and Best Actress, as well as the Best Supporting categories: all the names belong to white actors, even as critics noted the absence of Idris Elba for his performance in the Netflix-produced "Beasts of No Nation" and Will Smith for "Concussion."

And while Mexican filmmaker Alejandro Inarritu, who helmed "The Revenant," added diversity to the Best Director list, no women made the cut.

Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs diplomatically acknowledged the issue Thursday following the release of the nominations, telling Deadline, "Of course I am disappointed. But this is not to take away the greatness [of the films nominated]. This has been a great year in film."

'Entertainment that reflects our world'Few deny the industry has taken steps toward improving diversity.

Before 2015, the last time the Oscars produced an all-white acting nominee list was 1997, Vox reports. In 2002, Denzel Washington won best actor and Halle Berry made Oscar history, becoming the first woman to win best actress.

Black historical movies such as "The Help," "12 Years A Slave," and "The Butler" have, in the past few years, earned both critical acclaim and box office success - with "12 Years a Slave" taking home the best picture award in 2014. Lupita Nyong'o also won best supporting actress for her role in that film. Both "Creed" and "Straight Outta Compton," too, topped the charts in ticket sales worldwide, raking in $120 million and $200 million apiece.

Nor is it all just prestige dramas and biopics: The "Fast and Furious" franchise, which has grossed nearly $1.5 billion globally since the first film's release in 2001, stars actors of white, Hispanic, black, and Asian descent. And in casting Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, the record-smashing "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" takes up the trend of reimagining women and minorities in traditionally white, male roles - something movies such as "The Hunger Games" series and "I Am Legend" have done, as well.

"The old conventional wisdom that to make a successful film, you can't have leads of color or it's rare to put a woman in the lead? That whole idea's been smashed," says UCLA's Professor Hunt.

Television has made even greater strides. Gone are the days of "Full House" and "Friends," when white actors dominated the screen. From "Scandal" to "blackish," and "Jane the Virgin"; from "Empire" to "The Mindy Project" to the hacker series "Mr. …

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