Last week the 2015 Oscar nominees were announced. If you’ve paid even the slightest attention to it, you know that there was some very real backlash to the list this year. While the Oscars, like Hollywood, traditionally are dominated by white male stories, actors and directors, this year they were particularly so.
Every Best Actor nominee was white. Every Best Supporting Actor was white. Every best Actress nominee was white. Every Best Supporting Actress was white. Every Best Picture nominee was a male driven story and only one of the eight movies nominated was about a black male. And, the only person of color was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, an American icon. The rest were about white men. Average, ordinary, white men.
With the Academy being 94% white, 77% male and with a median age of 62, are you surprised by this years nominations? By any years nominations? The very people empowered to make the Oscar decisions are the people that are overrepresented in film. They are the people whose stories we see everywhere in film and on television. If you are a white male, your story is important. You don’t have to be exemplary, heroic or a legend. You just have to exist.
Amazing firsts and amazing triumphs are being ignored. Take ‘Selma’ for example. Featuring a predominately black cast, the movie is excellent. It is beautifully shot, masterfully edited, incredibly written. None of MLK’s actual speeches could be used due to copyright laws, making the moving speeches in the film even more amazing. The performances turned out by the cast are stunning. The attention paid to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr as an activist, as a husband, as a man, as a human- it’s wonderful. The film explores his relationship with his wife in a deep and meaningful way. Noting that MLK cheated on his wife, the film explores this infidelity from Coretta Soctt King’s point of view. Carmen Ejogo’s turn as Coretta Scott King is poetic. She brings grace to King’s suffering through her husband’s infidelity and show the pain that King felt even as she endlessly supported her husbands work and deeds. The film is moving on every cinematic level.
And yet. Directed by Ava DuVernay, a black woman, the film was snubbed in every Oscar category except for two: Best Original Song and Best Picture. DuVernay did not receive a nomination for best director, even though three of the Best Director nominees (Richard Linklater, Wes Anderson and Morten Tyldum) were nominated in both the best Director and Picture categories. This snub comes on the heels of DuVernay being nominated for best Director at 2015’s Golend Globes- a first there. The Golden Globes are generally considered a pre-cursor to the Oscar’s. For DuVernay to not even be nominated for an Oscar, when the Golden Globes at least got that far (Richard Linklater won) is a travesty.
‘Selma’ and DuVernay are not the only ones who were shut out this year. Angelina Jolie directed ‘Unbroken’, an epic tale of survival that did well at the box office and received no attention. Gillian Flynn wrote the screenplay of her own novel ‘Gone Girl’ but received no Best Screenplay nomination. Gugu Mbatha-Raw turned in a wonderful performance in ‘Beyond the Lights’ and all that movie saw was a Best Original Song nod.
When we continue to laud the Oscar’s as the highest honor that someone can achieve in American cinema and then systemically deny women and people of color access to these honors, the system is broken. The statistics don’t lie:
Four women have ever been nominated for Best Director. Only one has ever won.
Seventeen black men have been nominated for Best Actor. Only four have ever won.
Nine black women have been nominated for Best Actress. Only one has ever won.
When denied the opportunity to even participate in the game, how can we ask everyone to play by the rules? The message that the Academy is sending is very clear: we do not care about your stories if you are not white and we would prefer if you were a white male.
Hollywood operates on the idea that the white male story is the one that everyone wants to hear. That white men are open to every experience out there- they can struggle with mental illness, succeed at sports, excel in the courtroom, suffer loss, experience love, go through transformation- all unencumbered by something as silly as their gender or skin color. Any story about a woman or person of color tends to be centered on that fact- on the fact that they are NOT the default white male. According to Hollywood, their experiences are defined by their otherness, by how far they are from the white male. Are you a black male? You can be in the Best Picture nominees. Are you a female? You can come to the awards. Are you a female of color? There’s no room for you here, sorry. Are you trans? Are you disabled? These are people Hollywood and the Academy can not yet even fathom.
In a country that is 51% female, 13% black, 17% Latino, 5% Asian and 1% Native American, we have to do better at showing stories featuring who we already are as a country. We have to stop pretending that the white male experience is universal. We have to start sharing the glory and the credit around. We have to allow women and people of color more opportunities to step both in front of and behind the camera. Let’s not let 2016’s Oscar nominations fall into the same tired patterns that this year’s has.
Kara Perez is the original founder of From Frugal To Free. She is a money expert, speaker and founder of Bravely Go, a feminist financial education company. Her work has been featured on NPR, Business Insider, Forbes, and Elite Daily.