To Boycott Or Not To Boycott Oscars?

With the 88th Annual Academy Awards quickly approaching the film industry is buzzing with excitement but not for the right reasons. This year is shrouded in controversy – Whitegate – will there be a boycott, more to the point should people be boycotting anyway? Or will the draw of the red carpet event just be too much to miss.

This year’s nominations have been accused of being a little too white, just like last years. When the nominations were released in January, Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith came out to talk about why they will be boycotting the Oscars and urging others to do the same.

Oscars

So far Jada Pinkett Smith, Spike Lee, George Clooney and David Oyelowo have been openly critical towards the Academy. They argued that the Oscars have ignored black and other minorities actors.

There are four films that have made it on to the list where one might ask themselves how comes it was possible to have these films nominated without one single black actor, writer or director making the cut – Concussion (Will Smith), Straight Outta Compton, Creed (Michael B Jordan) and Beast of no Nation (Idris Elba).

Not only are some fantastic actors are being ignored but writers and directors are too. Creed was written and directed by the young and very talented Ryan Coogler, however, the only nomination for Creed has gone to Sylvester Stallone. 

Straight Outta Compton starred some amazing new talented black actors – O’Shea Jackson Jr, Corey Hawkins, and Jason Mitchell, also directed by F. Gary Gray, a black director, yet the only nomination was for Original Screenplay – Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff. 

The uproar has received recognition from the Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, with promises to take dramatic steps to increase the amount of diversity among members.

So is this a clear sign of institutional racism? 

There have been conversations regarding this for a while now, Idris Elba addressed Parliament about the lack of diversity in the industry just after the nominations were announced.

Last year we had the same conversation when the star of Selma David Oyelowo who played Martin Luther King Jr spoke out about the lack of diversity that plagues the film industry. 

But its not just racially motivated – women and disabled people are also frequently snubbed by the film industry and awards – if there wasn’t an all-female category there would probably be just as few women.

There was even a protest last year when there were no female directors at Cannes, where many women in the industry came together to speak out about the subject. 

What about disabled people? Even though there are roles about disabled people like the fantastic film The Theory of Everything – about the life of Stephen Hawking – instead of hiring a disabled actor it was played by Eddie Redmayne and argued that because Stephen Hawking was able-bodied, in the beginning, would need an able-bodied actor.

The big question is though, is it the Academy’s fault that there aren’t more good roles for black and ethnic minorities or women and disabled people, or is it more to do with the writers and casting process? Is it Cannes’ fault that there aren’t more female directors, and is it fair that we expect that the few will always produce work that is good enough for a nomination every year? 

As a mixed race woman with a disability I would love to see more roles in films that represent me, but I don’t think it is the Academy’s fault that there aren’t any, and it is certainly not their fault that the roles and films that are available to choose from don’t always warrant a nomination. 

One cannot deny that the film industry is overrun with middle-class white men, and honestly, do they have the same tastes in film as someone like you or me? for example, I loved Straight Outta Compton, I thought that the young actors in that film genuinely brought to life something for me I grew up with. 

The screenplay is definitely important, but I believe it was the actors that brought it to life. So, logically, if you can like the screenplay there should be no reason that one of those actors didn’t help you see that. But is that racism or just the way the person sees the film – it’s completely subjective.

A very smart lady pointed one thing out to me, when Ridley Scott wrote the part of Ripley in Alien – it was originally written for a man but given to Sigourney Weaver, a role that made her and the film stand out, why? Maybe because the role was cast not as it was written but with the insight that anyone can play any role.

Boycotting the Oscars will not work

So do I agree with Jada, no. I don’t think that any actor boycotting the Oscars will work. There were a few really great films with fantastic black actors that would deserve a nomination, but there were more great films with white actors this year.

Yes, the last two years we haven’t seen any nominations for minorities but there have been many nominations in previous years for some great black actors and films going all the way back to Sidney Poitier. 

There have been many black Oscar winners over the years – Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Whoopi Goldberg, Cuba Gooding Jn, Halle Berry, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Hudson, Forest Whitaker, Three 6 Mafia (First rappers to win for a song), Geoffrey Fletcher (First African American to win Adapted Screenplay), and Mo’nique. 

These are honestly just a few names that have won an Oscar, that’s not mentioning the nominations. It may not be as many as white actors but we are in danger of forgetting that actually, we do win.

I know it is a slow race, I admit there does appear to be some discrimination toward anyone that’s not white or male but let’s not forget we are making progress.

If we are honest, black and minority actors need to have their conversation with the writers out there or start writing themselves. Expecting writers to create roles for minorities and then complaining when they don’t materialise is foolhardy. Be the change you want to see.

There are plenty of actors that have had to write parts for themselves including Sylvester Stallone (Rocky) and Nia Vardelos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), Ben Affleck and Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting), in fact there are a lot of triple threat actors out there who have written, directed and acted their way onto our screens because they were unhappy with the type of roles being written or because they weren’t being chosen in the first place.

So should we be complaining about the lack of diversity or creating diversity? We cannot wait for someone else to take up our cause, we need to do that ourselves. Boycotting the Oscars in a bid to demand others to provide the diversity will take its time, go out and create the diversity – write something, showcase your talent and see what happens. Just don’t expect to be nominated for something every year when there are currently too few roles, writers and directors from minority groups, and we certainly can’t expect that there’s enough of us in the industry to warrant a nomination every year.

 

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