Staff editorial: Lack of diversity at Oscars shows need for better representation

It seems that awards shows always come coupled with controversy. Whether it’s outfit disasters or risqué performances, there’s always buzz leading up to and after a show.

The Oscars this week were no different, but the buzz was. For the first time since 1998, the nominees for the acting categories were all white. Additionally, no women were nominated for the best director and screenwriter categories.

Criticism was fierce as soon as the nominees were announced. Blame was laid on both the “whiteness” of Hollywood and the voting members of the Academy, who choose the Oscar nominees.

The qualifications for being an Academy member are complicated and relatively unimportant, but here’s what you need to know: members vote for candidates in their field. Actors vote for actors, directors vote for directors and so on, according to MentalFloss.com. The one exception is that everyone is eligible to vote for Best Picture. It’s from these initial votes that the nominees we see at the awards show are chosen, and the Academy then makes a final vote based on those nominees.

Doesn’t sound too bad, right?

Well, consider this: 94 percent of the 5,765 Academy members are white, according to the LA Times. 77 percent are male.

This is a problem.

For one, this is clearly not representative of the American population, and certainly isn’t representative of the people who watch movies. White men make up only 31 percent of the American population, according to the Washington Post. But because the Academy is predominantly white and male, the members are going to vote for predominantly white people or males. People generally have a bias, whether consciously or not, towards what they are familiar with. White men will vote for white men (or white women, depending on the category).

And unless there is a change within the Academy, this trend will continue to persist.

In the 83 years that the Academy Awards have been presented, only 4 percent of the acting awards have gone to black actors, and only one woman has ever won a directing award, according to the LA Times.

Cue comments like, “Well, maybe there just aren’t enough black actors.”

It’s pretty safe to say that this is not a solid argument. There was a diverse range of presenters during the Awards show, many of them actors. And when Selma, a movie about the civil rights movement (and, thus, full of black actors), is snubbed when it is expected to get several nominations, it is necessary to consider the larger factors at play.

Even host Neil Patrick Harris acknowledged the lack of diversity in nominees, remarking that they were at the show to “celebrate Hollywood’s best and whitest, sorry … brightest.”

Fortunately, great speeches addressing issues like the wage gap for women, incarceration of black men and talking about suicide were given by many of the winners. Unfortunately, much of it was undermined at the announcing of the winner for Best Picture.

Before announcing that “Birdman,” directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, had won, presented Sean Penn joked about who gave Iñárritu his green card. Not very subtle, there, Penn.

As college students, it’s impossible to know exactly where we’ll end up after graduation, but it’s important to realize that we may one day be in a position where representation will matter and be visible. We need to recognize that representation of all kinds of people is an accurate reflection of this country and the world.

Students of Franklin College, taking a closer look at what’s around you might open your eyes to the subtle inequalities that others face.

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About Ashley Shuler 1253 Articles

Ashley Shuler is the executive editor of The Franklin. She has held various multimedia journalism and public relations internships, including positions at Indianapolis Monthly, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and Dittoe Public Relations.

When she isn’t staying up late to edit stories, Ashley spends her time boutique shopping and drinking as much vanilla Coke as possible.

This is Ashley’s third year in a leadership role and her fourth year on The Franklin staff. She previously held positions as web editor and news editor.

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