In the wake of this year’s Oscar nominations, a lot has occurred. After seeing the lack of nominations for people of color again, the hashtag #oscarssowhite resurfaced and some big names in Hollywood made public their decision not to attend this year’s ceremony. In response, the Academy made some major changes and then everyone started to show their ass. From Julie Delpy’s “It’s hardest to be a woman. African-Americans don’t get bashed for speaking up” comments to Tab Hunter straight up calling the Academy’s steps to diversify “bullshit” and even Michael Caine’s comments that Black people should just “be patient”. No Michael, we can’t afford to be.
When people ask why the Academy Awards are important and why should they matter when the movies that most people see aren’t even nominated, I liken it to the speech Meryl Streep gives in The Devil Wears Prada. Although we like to think the fashion that walks the runway in Milan or Paris is far removed from what we buy in H&M and Old Navy, those styles and trends are set on those runways and filter their way down to us. Similarly, when Jennifer Lawrence is nominated for an Oscar, the next year she’ll be cast in a buddy-comedy, head a franchise, and end up in a major comic book film. The Oscars determine what will get green-lit the next year and when certain narratives are honored year after year while others are shut out, that is the problem.
What has been even more frustrating is the disparaging responses from other people of color like Gina Rodriguez and Ruben Blades. Blades has asked “Where is the solidarity with discriminated Latinos?” and I ask, “Where did reading comprehension fail this man?” The hashtag has always been #OscarsSoWhite not #OscarsNeedToBeBlack.
In Lin-Manuel Miranda’s groundbreaking musical Hamilton, Aaron Burr sings that he’s willing to wait for the opportunities that he thinks seem to fall into Alexander Hamilton’s lap. But what the audiences sees is Hamilton fighting for every single opportunity he gets. Black people have often fought for inclusion for all people of color yet every time we are seen raising our voice we are met by resistance and resentment on all sides. Despite comments from Lupita Nyong’o, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Spike Lee, and David Oyel0wo about the lack of inclusion for people of color as a whole, the media and members of the Academy continue to frame this argument as Black people asking for stuff they don’t deserve. I would think this was Republican vitriol, but apparently when you threaten their way of doing things, liberal Hollywood isn’t too different.
This entire “controversy” has shed light on the undercurrent of entitlement and racism that exists in Hollywood. This idea that if people of color aren’t getting nominated it’s because they’re not good enough (I would point out that Lupita Nyong’o attended Yale Drama and Oscar Isaac is a Juilliard graduate) or that the Academy can’t be racist because its members are liberal and progressive. As Ta-Nehisi Coates has said, this is not about people’s personal goodness. The Academy has been operating since 1920 and people of color have been involved in the movie-making process since the beginning.
How is it that in 2016, we are still being shut out of the industry’s top honors? I don’t know if these new rules are the solution, but I do know they have shaken the Academy out of its complacency (and wow are they mad). Though the individuals of the Academy and Hollywood as a whole may not be racist, their implicit biases say otherwise. From what is honored to what is even produced, Hollywood is engaged in reifying a narrative about people of color: that our lack of accolades is due to a lack of merit rather than a lack of opportunity. And we cannot let that myth continue to be perpetuated. We cannot wait.