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Culture

Is It Possible to Make the Academy Awards More Diverse?

The Academy snubbed minority actors and filmmakers this year, but the problem runs deeper than black faces not holding little gold statues.

by Dave Schilling
19 January 2015, 6:26am

Every year, as though there is some divine hand guiding the proceedings, the announcement of the Oscar nominations sparks an epic outcry over the lack of minority representation. These lamentations grow louder and louder as the sophistication of global communication increases. A thinkpiece must be written, a snub list must be compiled, and an army of bitter Twitterers absolutely has to berate those they deem unworthy of their nominations. Where are the women, the blacks, the Latinos, the Asians? Where's the diversity? they scream. And they continue screaming, even as it becomes obvious that no one is really listening.

Sure, there are years here and there where a breakthrough or five occurs. Last year's awards season was full of all sorts of nods to movies featuring predominantly black casts. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, The Butler, Fruitvale Station, and 12 Years a Slave were both critically acclaimed and popular with people who like critically acclaimed movies. More importantly, they were black stories made by black filmmakers. Not all of those movies received Oscar attention, but 12 Years a Slave did end up winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Before that, The Help, Precious, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Hustle and Flow snuck into the cinematic consciousness enough to get recognition in the early part of the calendar year. And, of course, who can forget Halle Berry winning an Oscar for bravely getting naked in front of Billy Bob Thornton?

In the years where a "black movie" (and I use that term very sparingly, since movies should be for everyone) gets Oscar nominations, the overwhelming consensus is that "finally, we made it!" That optimism is as short-lived as the euphoria that followed the election of Barack Obama. If no minorities are nominated, the doom and gloom comes back with a vengeance. In a lean year like this one, people fall over themselves proclaiming the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to be a racist institution that purposely doesn't honor minorities or women. I've been gnawing on this old chestnut for decades now, and it's starting to taste funny. I would love to see this situation actually improve in the future rather than be fodder for the bloviating pundit class. Everyone complains, but no one offers solutions. We've tried creating alternative award shows like the BET Awards, the GLAAD Awards, the ALMA Awards, the NAACP Image Awards, and countless others. All of them lack the prestige of the Oscars, so there's only one solution left: It's time to change the Oscars.

I get that the Academy Awards are an "institution," but so is the United States Postal Service and you don't see me sending my boss vacation requests through the mail. This is the 21st century! I send him a photo of me with crutches (or a thermometer in my frowning mouth) with an iPhone! He buys it hook, line, and sinker every time, which allows me to do what I really want to do with my day: sneak off to go see movies with predominantly black casts. What a rube! It's time for the Academy to modernize too, and the best way to do that is to create awards categories just for minorities. That will ensure that they'll get their time to shine next to their white male colleagues no matter what.

At first, I thought, "create a Best Minority Actor" category, but changed my mind when I realized we wouldn't be able to recognize everyone. What if one year they nominated three black guys, a Korean, and a Pakistani? No Latinos and no Native Americans? What would the Indians think if there was a Pakistani nominee, but no one from Bollywood? Do you see where I'm going? Every minority group (including those with physical and mental disabilities) is going to need their own category. Yes, the show will run for 12 hours and they'll have to install beds in the Dolby Theater and make the attendees wear diapers so they aren't getting up every hour to pee, but absolutely no one would be upset. The Separate but Equal Academy Awards would be a huge hit. So, now that we've figured out how to award each and every minority group there is, let's look at who would be eligible for these brand new categories. First up, "Best Black Director." Here's a list of all the major Hollywood studio films from 2014 that were directed by black people:

  • Selma, Ava DuVernay
  • Think Like a Man, Too, Tim Story
  • Tyler Perry's the Single Mom's Club, Tyler Perry
  • Addicted, Bille Woodruff
  • The Equalizer, Antoine Fuqua

Ummm... that's it? Only one of those movies is actually good, and I'm not talking about Think Like a Man, Too. I'm talking about Addicted, of course. OK, let's move on to the "Best Asian Actor" category.

Was John Cho in a movie this year? No? Shit. I tried to think of a movie that was starring or directed by a Native American, but I ended up remembering The Lone Ranger with Johnny Depp came out last year and started crying by the side of the road.

It's almost like there's a massive dearth of minorities starring in and directing studio movies, but we only talk about these problems for a few weeks every year when they start handing out statues. The film industry talks a lot about diversity, especially when it comes to awkward stunts like making the titular character in Annie black, but the faces behind the camera and the ones greenlighting the films all look suspiciously alike. We're all mad that Ava DuVernay was "snubbed" by the Academy, but aspiring minority filmmakers are snubbed before they even get to the point where they can work. Moviemaking is a straight white male's game, and until the movie industry can get better at cultivating minority voices, it will remain so for years to come.

Follow Dave Schilling on Twitter.

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