By Carolyn Bossmann
The 88th Oscars will be televised Feb. 28, but there will be a few noticeable absences in the crowd, including Will Smith and Spike Lee, according to cnn.com.
For the second year in a row, #OscarsSoWhite has trended worldwide because the nomination lists for all of the major categories are made up predominantly of Caucasian nominees. This year, some A-list actors and directors decided to boycott the Oscars in hopes of diversifying Oscar nominations in the future.
What needs to change isn’t just the lack of diversity among the nominations, but the procedures for how film roles are given and how nominations are made.
The Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has changed the way members can join the board in response to the boycott and the media’s claim that they are being prejudiced in their nominations.
The Academy will launch an ambitious, global campaign to identify and recruit qualified new members who represent greater diversity, according to oscars.org. The criteria for those who can join will also be broadened to allow a more diverse board. Voters on the board are currently 93 percent white and 76 percent male, according to atlantic.com. Therein lies the problem.
Those in the film industry can only be nominated for roles if they are cast in those roles. The problem with the film industry is that the screenplays and roles are written for, or immediately visualized as Caucasian actors.
“It’s important to tell the story you’re telling in the right way, which might involve black people or people of whatever heritage or ethnicity – or it might not,” Ethan Coen, co-director, with his brother Joel Coen, of films such as “The Big Lebowski” and “Fargo,” said to The Daily Beast.
In an interview with The Guardian, George Miller, best director nominee, said: “I think casting is story-driven. Films are story-driven, and so if the story warrants it, of course there should be diversity of all kinds.”
While some films are focused on historical events and remain true to the story, this argument only applies to that narrow category. Miller’s latest nomination was for “Mad Max: Fury Road,” a post-apocalyptic fictional movie.
No precedent exists for who should be cast in a post-apocalyptic world, nor were there any race-specific roles. Yet the entire cast for “Fury Road” was Caucasian, with the exception of one actress, Zoe Kravitz.
While the Coen brothers’ films are well known for being set in the Old West or country, not all of them are historical. Several, including “A Serious Man,” “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” “The Big Lebowski” and Golden Globe winner “Burn After Reading,” feature almost completely Caucasian casts.
In fact, the only film the Coen brothers have produced with a lead cast member who is not white is “Bad Santa” with Bernie Mac, according to imdb.com.
This simply highlights the biggest problem with the film industry today. The reason there are nearly no diverse nominations is because there are almost no roles created for a diverse cast – even when it doesn’t affect the story line in any way.
This doesn’t affect only race, but also other demographics, such as gender and those with disabilities.
Another issue concerning the Oscars that hasn’t gotten as much traction as #OscarsSoWhite is that women are rarely nominated.
This stems from the fact that women do not get the same opportunities to lead in films compared to their male counterparts.
Additionally, women hold only 19 percent of the top behind-the-scenes filmmaking jobs, according to an article by The Guardian.
In 2012, Geena Davis revealed that of the non-acting members in film, only 7 percent are female. After Davis pointed this out, nothing happened.
“But they changed the rules in one day for every category when one actor and one director claimed the Oscar nomination process was racist,” Nancy Beiman, an animator who has been working in the film industry for 37 years, said in an interview with the New York Post.
Clearly the Board of Governors has its work cut out, but this current boycott of the Oscars is a positive first step.
There should never be an entire black cast left out of nominations while the two Caucasian screenplay writers are the ones nominated.
Ahem, “Straight Outta Compton.” I see you.