#OscarsSoWhite

It’s Oscar season, and with the 88th Academy Awards right around the corner, we cannot ignore the hubbub of controversy that has caught the public eye in recent weeks. So what’s the big deal?

Now, with Chris Rock being at the heart of the proceedings as this year’s host, for a second time, it would appear that the Academy have made a step in the right direction towards diversifying the ceremony.  However, it was not this decision that has caused such an outcry within Hollywood and the acting community. It was following the announcement of this year’s nominees, among which there was not one person of colour nominated for the 2nd year running that inspired frustration and anger in many. Jada Pinkett Smith posted a video on her Facebook page informing the public that she would not be attending the event and instead staying at home as a stance of defiance. Equally film director Spike Lee has also shown his support for the boycott, posting a photo on Instagram as a display of solidarity. Other actors such as Ian McKellen, Viola Davis and Tyrese Gibson have spoken out, as well as Halle Berry, the first black woman to receive an Oscar for Best Actress, labelling the diversity controversy as ‘heart-breaking’.

Nevertheless, not all of Hollywood are in agreement. Many stars, such as Helen Mirren, Whoopi Goldberg and Charlotte Rampling have sought to defend the academy’s decisions. Michael Caine, 84, was keen to share his thoughts on the matter in a recent BBC 4 interview, he stated "There's loads of black actors. You can't vote for an actor because he's black. You got to give a good performance, and I’m sure there were very good [performances].” Caine makes a valid point here, the quality of each actor's performance is subjective, and should not relate to a person’s race or ethnicity. But do the facts work against him?

It would seem that the composition of the Academy voting body speaks volumes. In 2013 the LA Times reported that amongst the 6,000 members 93% were white, and in 2012 only 2% of voters were black and 77% were male. This unfair, unbalanced representation of both black people and women is problematic to say the least. Likewise, we cannot ignore those who have been snubbed by the Academy this year. Ridley Scott directed ‘The Martian’, which was nominated for Best Picture and was the highest grossing film of all of those within that category, however unlike many of his fellow directors, Scott failed to receive a nomination himself.  Likewise, somehow the only nomination for ‘Straight Outta Compton’ went to two white people, Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff, for best screenplay?!  Additionally, both Will Smith and Idris Elba, have been highly commended for their performances in ‘Concussion’ and ‘Beats of No Nation’ respectively, receiving Golden Globe nominations, and Elba a BAFTA nomination, yet disappointingly fell short when it came to the Oscars. In case you are wondering whether this is purely coincidental, these patterns of racial bias were present in last year’s awards. David Oyelowo’s remarkable performance as MLK in ‘Selma’ fell short of a Best Actor nomination despite having amassed heaps of nominations, however Bradley Cooper received his third consecutive Oscar nomination, this time for Best Actor for ‘American Sniper’.  Evidently those who have spoken out are standing on some solid ground, but is this not just a battle within a much bigger war? Are the Oscars not just a reflection of the inequality within Hollywood itself?

Reflecting on these questions, the future landscape of Hollywood does not look all too bleak; the insanely popular film Star Wars: The Force Awakens, starred a black actor John Boyega, a relatively unknown female actress Daisy Ridley, and Latino actor Oscar Isaac as their three main characters, paving the way for change. As a result of the backlash, on the face of it the Academy appear to have responded positively and swiftly, claiming on Friday that they aim to double “the number of women and diverse members of the Academy by  2020,” and in addition Academy President declared that “The Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up,”, but unfortunately these changes will not affect the 2012 ceremony. These are positive progressions, but will the Academy walk the walk? One would hope that influential members of the Hollywood community continue to challenge the film industry and strive for a greater diversity. Will you be trending? #OscarSoWhite

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