Last week brought us the list of this year’s Academy Awards nominations, and while there’s always a buzz about who will win the season’s biggest award in film, this year’s controversy is a little bit more colorful… or not. Not at all.
Looking at the five actors who are up for the coveted award of Best Actor in a Motion Picture (Bradley Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Steve Carell, Michael Keaton, and Eddie Redmayne), there’s one striking similarity they all share: they’re all white.
That’s a fluke, you say. You’re only looking at one category.
Okay, fair enough. Let’s take a glance at the five Best Actress in a Motion Picture nominees. Reese Witherspoon, Felicity Jones, Julianne Moore, Marion Cotillard, and Rosemund Pike – all of whom are, again, white.
As a matter of fact, all of the 20 acting nominees are white. There is not a single man or woman of color who is up for any of the acting awards, despite critically-acclaimed performances by such actors as David Oyelowo (Selma), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle), and Gael Garcia Bernal (Rosewater). And this is the first time in more than a decade that this has been the case.
But a whitewashed Oscars is not the only source of controversy this time around. The Best Director category is also lacking a little in the diversity department. With names like Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, Bennett Miller, Morten Tyldum, and Alejandro G. Iñárritu, there is not a single female director in the bunch. No Angelina Jolie (Unbroken), who made her directorial debut this year. No Ava DuVernay (Selma). No Amma Asante (Belle). No Niki Caro (McFarland, USA). And of the five nominees, only one is a POC. One.
But what about the screenwriters? you ask. Surely there’s some diversity there.
Unfortunately, no. Of the 14 Screenplay nominees (split between Original and Adapted), all of them come from males. All 14 Screenplays that are nominated for Academy Awards were written by men.
This is the diversity of the 2015 Academy Awards, and it’s absolutely a problem.
Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs would disagree, though. When Vulture asked her if the Oscars had an issue with recognizing diversity, her official answer was, “Not at all,” though she did continue to say, “It matters that we play attention to, again, the diversity of voice and opinion and experience, and that it doesn’t slide… anywhere except for forward.”
And despite the fact that a lack of diversity in the Oscar noms is a major problem, it’s not the only trend we found. With regard to genre in the Oscar nominees, there were some total not-surprises. Big blockbusters like The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Guardians of the Galaxy only received the typical nominations for Sound Editing and Special Effects. This year’s Musicals were almost left out of the mix entirely. But there was one genre surprise this year. Of the eight nominated films in the Best Motion Picture category, what do half of them have in common? They’re Biographical Pictures (AKA “biopics”), which tell the true (or mostly true) story of a specific figure in history – be it Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Chris Kyle in American Sniper, or Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything – or a specific historical event, such as the cracking of WWII enigma code by British mathematician Alan Turing in The Imitation Game. Of the remaining four movies, two of them could plausibly be true stories. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), which shows a former Superhero-actor’s decline to insanity, certainly rings some bells; and Whiplash is (quite) loosely based on director Damien Chazelle’s high school band experience with the title song. Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is a work of realistic fiction, and The Grand Budapest Hotel is an absurdist story the likes of which only Wes Anderson could tell.
So I guess this Awards season, we can give out three “Oscars” of our own:
1. “Most Snubbed” to Women and Persons of Color (and, for movies, Selma)
2. “Academy’s Favorite Genre” to Biopic
3. “Least Diverse Awards in 17 Years” to the 2015 Academy Awards
And beyond that? Well, I guess there’s always next year…