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#Oscars So White-The Sequel

Oscar Nominees 2016
The nominees for best actor and actress and best supporting actor and actress.

By Ed Diokno

Not again.

We’ve seen this picture before: All 20 nominees for Oscar acting awards this year are White. The last time we saw this blinding light of White was … well … a year ago.

Last year when the all-White roster of nominees were named Oscars got blasted on Twitter and #OscarsSoWhite went viral for overlooking Selma and Fruitvale and their stars and directors.

Many people – myself, included – thought the Academy of Motion Pictures wouldn’t go through all the embarrassment of an all-White class of nominees again and all the criticism that it generated. Boy, was I wrong!

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“Of course I am disappointed, but this is not to take away the greatness (of the nominations),” Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first Black president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, told Deadline. “This has been a great year in film, it really has across the board. You are never going to know what is going to appear on the sheet of paper until you see it.”

 To be clear, a lot of White talent got snubbed too including Steven Spielberg, Jane Fonda, Aaron Sorkin among others.

But I thought for sure that Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation)  was a sure thing to get  nominated in the Best Actor category. I hoped that Michael B Jordan (Creed) would join the acting nominees. There were outside chances (but deserving) that Will Smith (Concussion), Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton) or Benicio Del Toro (Sicario) would get nominations.

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Through Isaacs’ urging, the Academy increased its membership to include more people of color to perhaps widen the pool of preferences but, apparently, that effort was not enough.

It seems the only way an actor or director of color can get an Oscar is in a special honorific category. That’s what happened when director Spike Lee received an honorary Oscar at the Governors Awards. Lee took the occasion to excoriate the industry saying that it was “easier to be president of the United States as a Black man than be the head of a studio.”

As he accepted the honor, Lee said, “By the year 2043, White Americans are going to be a minority in this country. And all you people out there in the position of hiring, you better get smart. Because your work force should reflect what this country looks like.”

“Everybody in here probably voted for Obama,” he added, “but when I go to offices, I see no Black folks except for the brother man at security.”

Elba Idris
Idris Elba’s powerful performance in ‘Beasts of No Nation’ was overlooked by the Academy membership.

Let’s face it, a lot of the Academy voters would rather see a film about Irish immigrants than go see Straight Outta Compton. The same voters would also prefer to not lend any legitimacy to a movie debuting on a rival medium like Netflix, where Beasts of No Nation premiered.

The Oscar nominations are only a symptom of the real problem. It is not a lack of talent among minority actors and film makers.

The decision-makers – the people who cast the movies, the studio honchos who greenlight projects, the directors, writers and producers are overwhelmingly White men. In addition, there is a large residue of technicians, crew and office workers who have been in the White enclave of Hollywood who still wield plenty of influence. In order to get nominated for an Oscar, first, you have to have the opportunity to get the meaty role.

What if John Cho played the Martian? Or Lucy Liu was cast in Carol? Or Denzel Washington played the Revenant? For an industry that values creativity, there is a lack of  imagination in casting.

Even though the Oscars is losing its relevancy, I’ll most likely be watching the telecast next month. #OscarsSoWhite should provide plenty of fodder for this year’s emcee, Chris Rock, who has had plenty to say in the past about the institutional “whiteness” of Hollywood.


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