10 Ways the Oscars are Racially Biased
The first time that all 20 actors nominated to receive an Oscar were all white; many viewed it as a surprise or coincidence. However, when this happened two years in a row, some decided it as an outright scandal. Even though there were no empty seats at the 88th edition of the Academy Awards (because live TV doesn’t permit this sort of thing), which aired on February 28th, there were a few obviously missing faces. Many black Americans stated this “whitewash” is what spurred their need to boycott this ceremony.
The fact is, according to an analysis of the awards shows and film cases, the total number of black actors who won Oscars in this century was in line with the overall size of the black population in America. However, this by no means indicates that Hollywood doesn’t have an issue with prejudice. The data proves there is clearly a problem present.
Unfortunately, there are many facts, situations, and instances where Hollywood has shown its ugly, racist side. More cases support this thought, than detract from it, making the claim of a whitewash seem legitimate.
If you are on the fence regarding whether or not you believe there is a racist issue in Hollywood, consider the information found here. This article highlights 10 facts and situations that show just how racist Hollywood and the Oscars really are. You may have a different opinion about the entire situation by the time you reach the end.
10“Rocky” vs. “Creed”
The issue of whether or not the Oscars was and is a racist award’s show came to a head in the past two years when certain films with certain emotional resonances were ultimately passed over. For example, the original “Rocky,” which was released in 1976, was awarded three Oscars. Also, Sylvester Stallone, the star, received a nomination for both writing and acting (however, he did not win these nominations).
Fans and critics have heaped endless praise on the new addition to the “Rocky” franchise, “Creed,” which was released in 2015. In this movie, a black fighter is the hero. However, the star of the movie, nor the black directors, Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan, received a nomination. Instead, they had to settle for the over $100 million brought in at the box office. The only nomination that the film received was for Mr. Stallone. This time, the nomination was for his role as Best Supporting Actor.
Additional examples of this include the film, “Straight Outta Compton.” This was a film about a black hip-hop group, and it had a black producer and director. This film only received nominations for the screenplay. Guess what? The writers of the film were all white. Another example was “Beasts of No Nation.” While fans and reviewers loved Idris Elba and hoped he would be the next James Bond, the Academy completely ignored it. The list of these situations goes on and on and get more racist with each.
9The Case of the Lost Oscar
Hattie McDaniel was the first black person to ever receive an Oscar. In 1940, she was given the award for her role as “Mammy,” the maid in the movie “Gone with the Wind.” Just a few months earlier, the Jim Crow laws had prohibited her, and any other black actor, from going to the premier of the movie at the Loew’s Grand Theater, which was in Atlanta, Georgia. When she accepted the award, which was given for Best Supporting Actress, Hattie’s speech included thank-yous to all the academy members, and she was hardly able to hold her tears back. In her speech, she also stated that she really hoped that she would be a credit to her race and the entire motion picture industry.
After her speech, she walked to the very back of the banquet hall where her seat was located at a slight round table she was sharing with her escort for the evening, Ferdinand Yoder. Her and the other black actors and actresses were segregated from the remainder of the white guests and the white portion of the cast of “Gone with the Wind.”
Six decades after the award was given, there is no idea where McDaniel’s Oscar actually is. While she bequeathed it to Howard University and it was there for a brief time in the 1960s, some believe it was stolen in 1968 and thrown into the Potomac River as a sign of protest during the civil rights unrest. However, there was also an eBay auction in 2011 that looked similar to the award that Hattie received.
8The Academy’s Voting Members are 94% White
Many fingers are pointing at the fact that of the 6,000 (or so) voting members of the Academy, 94% of them are white. The movie, “Do the Right Thing,” from Spike Lee was considered one of the greatest movies to have never won an Oscar. Many have stated that the “all-white ballot” led to this situation. Actors such as Don Cheadle, who received a Best Actor nomination in 2004 for the movie “Hotel Rwanda,” made the dry joke that he would be parking cars during the event.
Many are wondering how it was possible that the absolute only black person who was on stage at the latest Academy Awards was Chris Rock – who was hosting. Even he made the statement that the Oscars had become the white equivalent to the Black Entertainment Television award show.
Consider the following and decide for yourself whether or not this white-majority voting power didn’t impact the actors who were nominated for an Oscar. The years listed above are not the first cases of whitewashing during the Oscars. There were no actors or actresses that came from ethnic minorities nominated during the years between 1975 and 1980, or in 1995 or 1997.In the entire 20th century, approximately 95% of all Oscar nominations were awarded to white stars. This is a pretty embarrassing anachronism that shows the prevalence of the white Academy electors and their impact on who received this award.
After the 1940 award that was given to Hattie, it was 24 years before another black actor received one. The non-winning streak was broken by Sidney Poitier, who received an Oscar in 1963. After this, another 27 years passed before Whoopi Goldberg won an Oscar for the role she had in “Ghost.” This trend has made many people wonder how diverse the Oscars had been for the actors historically and what type of progress had been made in the recent years.
According to some research based on the database from the Academy Awards, the number of wins for minority actors were limited until the early part of the 1980s. This is when actors of color began to win on a limited but consistent basis. Between 1980 and now, white male actors won the Oscar 84% of the time, followed by black male actors who won 10% of the time and Asian and Hispanic actors only won 3% of the time. For the women, white actresses won 89% of the awards, black actresses won 9% of the time, and Hispanic actresses won 3% of the time.
According to research, there have only been two Native American actors/actresses nominated for an award – ever – and neither won. The two included Chief Dan George for a role in “Little Big Man,” and Graham Green for his role in “Dances with Wolves.” This paints a clearer picture of just how racist the Academy has been and still is.
6Racism Abounds in the World of Hollywood
According to a study, approximately 600 of the top films between the years of 2007 to 2013 at the Annenberg Center for Communication and Journalism cast black actors in various speaking roles proportional to their overall percentage of American’s population. This represents a situation where Asians and Latinos do much worse. However, blacks are still under-represented in the roles that really count when the Oscars are concerned. In fact, black actors and actresses were cast in only 9% of the top roles in movies since 2000.
These numbers show that even though the film industry doesn’t represent the diversity of America well, the whitewashing that is apparent not only occurs behind the Academy’s closed doors but also in drama schools across the nation and even in casting offices. For the majority of the previous 15 years, the Academy members have mainly judged what they saw – minority actors receive 15% of the top roles in movies, 15% of the total nominations and 17% of the Oscar wins. When a black actor receives a top role, they do surprisingly well (all of them) and convert 9% of the top roles into a total of 10% of the best actor nominations, and 15% receive that coveted golden statuette. This is a bit more than their share of the population. However, this still goes to show that while black actors are mainly successful when they are cast in a leading role, acquiring that “top role” is extremely difficult and something that doesn’t happen very often.
5Minorities Winning Oscars Typically Fit in a Racial Stereotype
The response from the community for Hattie McDaniel when she won her Oscar was divided. Her fellow actor and friend, Clarence Muse, actually discouraged blacks from seeing the film she won it for, “Gone with the Wind.”
Howard University and the NAACP also had objections to the movie, which was a film that criticized the opponents of slavery and the Civil War. Mammy, McDaniel’s character was a common Hollywood stereotype, where a respectable black woman had to play servant to white families, with no reference to their families and were often cast as unattractive, plump and asexual individuals. Winning the Oscar ended up typecasting McDaniel into the maid role, and she went on to play a maid in several other movies.
This “Mammy” stereotype is just a single example of the countless racial stereotypes on TV and in films. In a study of the Oscar winners since the 1980s, it was discovered that 55 percent of minority wins fit into a racial stereotype. Only a quarter of the minority wins fit no-stereotype, and the remaining were roles where a minority depicted a real, famous person. This is a problem that still seems to be prevalent in some cases and one that has not been forgotten. While the issue was seen more widely in the earlier years, between 1940 and 1980, it is still an issue that minority actors and actresses have to deal with.
4Black Directors are more Under-Represented than Actors
When you consider the facts behind the scenes, the situation is even more revealing to the true nature of Hollywood and the underlying racism that is present. The black population is even more under-represented when it comes to the director’s chair. In fact, in the top 600 films that were looked at, only 6% of the directors were black according to information gathered in the Annenberg study referenced above. However, even more, shocking is that black women are virtually nonexistent in the role of director. In fact, only two of the 600 movies had black, female directors, with Ms. DuVernay being one of them.
Many people believe that these are the shocking numbers that Hollywood’s critics need to be more concerned about. Another factor is the lack of top roles for actors and actresses from the Asian and Hispanic community. The Best Actor nominations and number of wins, where black actors have actually done decently (the years of 2015 and 2016 the exception) seem to many to be the wrong target. Those who are worried about the state and racist nature of Hollywood need to focus on factors that are much more disturbing, such as the director’s situation and the Asian and Hispanic communities lack of top roles. This is where the racism is truly a problem and a limiting factor in allowing those from minority races to achieve the opportunities that their white counterparts have experienced.
3Minority Lead Actors/Actresses Must Play Real, Famous People
When you look at the winners of an Oscar in the Best Actor or Actress in a Leading Role categories according to race, the picture became even more disproportionate. The roles of Oscar winners in these leading roles were only 6% black, with 93% being white and 1% Asian. No Hispanics were even represented, nor Native Americans.
In fact, when you take a closer look, you will discover that only five people of color have won the Best Actor or Actress in Leading Role award since all the way back to 1980. Four of the winners were men, Ben Kingsley in his role as Gandhi in the movie “Gandhi,” Denzel Washington in his role as Alonzo in the movie “Training Day,” Jamie Foxx in his role as Ray Charles in the movie “Ray,” and Forest Whitaker in his role as Idi Amin in “The Last King of Scotland.” There was only one female winner, Halle Berry in her role as Leticia in the movie “Monster’s Ball.”
If you see the trend, you understand where this is going. Three of the winners were cast in the role of famous people, Gandhi, Ray Charles, and Idi Amin. The other two were roles that included a racial stereotype. This makes it clear that if you want to win an Oscar for a lead role and you are a minority, you need to play a famous, real person.
According to Marc Bernardin who made a quote in a recent article about the racism issue in Hollywood, the awards targeted films seen today that have a minority protagonist are usually about the most amazing person of that same race who ever lived.
2The Main Protagonist Roles are Primarily White
Because there have been too few minority actors or actresses in leading roles, another way you can view the racial prejudice is to take the time to analyze the movies where the minority individuals won the award for Best Actor or Actress in a Supporting Role. When you do this, ask the questions of, who was the main protagonist and what was the primary story about?
Ten of the total 14 minority actors who received an award for Best Actor or Actress in a Supporting Role were in a position where they supported the white protagonists. Many of these even fit the bill for the stereotype of “white savior.”
One example of this is when Denzel Washington won an Oscar for his supporting role in the movie “Glory.” In this film, the main protagonist was played by white actor, Matthew Broderick, who was a white colonel who led a Civil War black regimen. Or consider the role Cuba Gooding Jr. had in “Jerry Maguire,” where Tom Cruise was the dynamic agent who experiences an epiphany and changes his entire way of life while Gooding’s role was mainly one-dimensional. This is true for females, as well. For example, Penelope Cruz’s Oscar for her role in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” where Cruz’s character served as a catalyst for the self-discovery story of Scarlett Johansson.
1Hollywood Studios are Old White Boys Clubs
The question you may still have is how can you account for the imbalance between the representation of actors of color and white actors in the Academy Awards – specifically in the years 2015 and 2016.
A few years ago, during an interview with Good Morning America, Spike Lee successfully drew attention to the bigger systemic lack of diversity inside the film industry. According to Lee, the issue goes much further than just the Academy Awards. It goes all the way back to the gatekeepers. It goes to the executives who decide what films are going to be made and which ones aren’t.
This was a comment that was made after the announcement that he had no plans to go to the Academy Awards that year. This was his way of protesting the situation.
Several studies have looked into the other factors that may have contributed to the lack of diversity in representation and not just at the various award shows, but in the mainstream film overall. The findings have shown that there is a significant lack of diversity all the way from the very beginning of the production of a movie.
This large gap in diversity is not just an issue of minority actors and actresses being recognized at awards shows, including the Academy Awards. However, it also relates to the executive and production side of the industry and points to an overall larger lack of representation.
A surprising bit of information is the fact that Hattie McDaniel’s Oscar is not the only one that has gone missing. Recently, when Idris Elba wasn’t nominated for the role he had in “Beasts of No Nation,” was met with quite a bit of collective disbelief. The same was true for Abraham Attah’s role in the same movie, as well as Karidja Toure’s role in the movie “Girlhood.”
Now, there is more effort put into ensuring the Oscars had a more diverse representation.
In response to the trending #OscarsSoWhite controversy that occurred in 2016, an announcement was made by Cheryl Boone that she invited 638 new members to the Academy. Of this new addition, 41% were minority women, and 46% were women total. This was a definite improvement compared to the 75% male and the 92% white prior membership.
With these changes, it brought the number of male members of the Academy down to just 73% and the total number of white Academy members down to just 89%.
The latest list of nominations was also much more diverse than it was the previous year, with seven of the 20 nominations going to people of color. This is mainly due to movies, such as “Loving,” “Moonlight,” “Fences,” and “Hidden Figures,” which all tell stories of people of color.
However, many agree that there is still room for a bit more diversity. What do you think? Have your views on Hollywood diversity and racism changed?