Millions of viewers will tune in for the 88th Academy Awards on Feb 28. Comedian Chris Rock will host this year’s ceremony as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences selects who they believe to be the best artists in the film industry this past year. Due to recent controversy surrounding nominations, however, there will be a few familiar faces missing from this year’s awards. Some celebrities of color have decided to boycott the Oscars—most notably actors Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, who released a video calling for the boycott on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In the video, Pinkett Smith said, “The Academy has the right to acknowledge whoever they choose, to invite whoever they choose. And now I think that it's our responsibility now to make the change.”
The nominations for this year’s ceremony triggered a response of outrage from many industry professionals for one reason: every single actor and actress nomination was given to white actors and actresses. The anger sparked by this announcement is entirely justified, considering that this is not the first, but second year in a row that actors of color were snubbed by the Academy. One year and we could maybe call it a coincidence, but two years in a row shows a systematic issue in both the Academy and the film industry as a whole.
The controversy has created a buzz regarding the demographics of those in the Academy who watch the year’s films and hand out award nominations. The Los Angeles Times recently conducted a study of Academy members and the results were unsurprising: 94 percent of Academy voters are white and 77 percent are male.
With so few people of color deciding who is the “best” in the industry, there are fewer people of color recognized. The results of the nominations for the past two years are essentially suggesting that cinematic greatness is associated with whiteness.
In both years, there were many deserving actors denied nominations. At last year’s awards, the critically acclaimed film Selma was ignored in all acting categories. This year, Will Smith was nominated for a Golden Globe award for his work in Concussion, but could not garner a nomination from the Academy.
“For 20 opportunities to celebrate actors of color, actresses of color, to be missed last year is one thing; for that to happen again this year is unforgivable,” Selma star David Oyelowo said.
The lack of diversity at the Academy Awards, however, could also be attributed to the few opportunities that people of color have in the film industry as a whole. In a recent interview with Variety, actor George Clooney spoke out on this subject, asking, “How many options are available to minorities in film, particularly in quality films?”
The lack of representation at the Academy Awards may just be symptomatic of a deeper, underlying issue: the limited representation of people of color in the entertainment industry as a whole.