On Sunday 28 February 2016, the Academy Awards return with its prestigious ceremony to honour the most highly regarded films over the past year. But for the second year running, the Oscar nominations have only recognised white actors and directors in the main categories, excluding many extremely talented black and minority actors and filmmakers.
In protest at the lack of diversity, there have been calls for a boycott on the high-status event by many, with A-list celebrities such as director Spike Lee and actors Will and Jada Pinkett Smith refusing to attend in order to promote the need for change within the industry. However, comedian and 2016 host, Chris Rock, has disregarded the boycott, instead opting to stay and rewrite his monologues in order to address the ‘#OscarsSoWhite’ controversy from its own stage.
This has sparked an international debate on the subject, with overwhelming amounts of support for the cause. Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, spoke of being ‘heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion’, and that she had expected media backlash about the lack of diversity before the nominations were announced to the public. In response, on 21 January 2016, Isaacs held a press conference proposing changes to the voting rules for nominations and requirements of the Academy members, with promises to try and double the number of female and minority Academy members in upcoming years. Whilst people are applauding the way that the Academy has taken notice and is attempting to resolve the problem, many believe the boycott is still necessary to ensure these proposed changes are actually implemented.
One of the most notable performances that was denied recognition this year belongs to Idris Elba for his leading role in Beasts of No Nation. He plays a brutal warlord in an African civil war, training an orphan to join his band of guerrilla fighters. Released 16 October 2015, the film has been highly acclaimed by many, adding fuel to the flames of the diversity debate with the question of why Elba was not considered for a nomination. Former Oscar winner Michael Caine also mentioned Elba, saying, ‘I saw Idris Elba [in Beasts of No Nation] … I thought he was wonderful.’ However, Caine also remarked: ‘There’s loads of black actors. In the end you can’t vote for an actor because he’s black… You have to give a good performance and I’m sure people have.’ Although some people took this to be offensive, in essence Caine is simply remarking that minority actors and filmmakers should not be nominated just to add diversity to the awards.
Additionally, Straight Outta Compton, the biopic about hip-hop group N.W.A.’s struggle through the music industry in the late 1980s, is up for Best Original Screenplay this year, but the writers were white, and the cast have not been invited to attend the ceremony, sparking outrage. Surprisingly, Ice Cube, a producer of the film and a member of N.W.A. disagrees with the boycott, commenting on the issue in a BBC interview: ‘We got so much praise for the movie, it’s like how could you be mad because one other academy or guild or anybody didn’t say it’s the number one?’ He continued ‘It’s crying about not having enough icing on your cake. It’s just ridiculous.’
Whilst it is widely agreed that there needs to be more diversity in Hollywood, is this a hyped up media reaction to a true review of talent or does more need to be done in the name of fairness? Let milk. know what you think about the Oscar’s Controversy, use #OscarsSoWhite at @MilkBathSpa.