It's the year 2016 and people are pledging to make a better person of themselves this year. There have been many instances in history where men and women alike, have had to fight for their voice to be heard, and fight for equality. Those past examples have not been alien to any of us as we are reminded about them in our History lessons at school. However, if we were to look back and analyse the past with the present, will it be feasible to say that equality is no longer an issue in today's day and age? The recent Oscar Academy Award controversy has raised many eyebrows, due to the non-inclusion of black stars in this year's nomination.
The Oscars is the most prestigious and awaited event for not only film buffs, but for the Hollywood film industry as well, where the crème de la crème and the who's who of the business attend the award ceremony. However, the authenticity and the fairness of this award has been questioned over the past few years, due to the lack of recognition of black actors.
Actors, such as Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, and filmmaker Spike Lee, are amongst those who are boycotting the awards. Jada Pinkett Smith, stated in a video on Facebook that she will not be attending the Oscars out of principle. She said, “Begging for acknowledgement or even asking diminishes dignity and diminishes power, and we are a dignified people and powerful.”
The president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, said that she felt disheartened by the lack of diversity. She said she was “both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion... This is a difficult but important conversation and it's time for big changes... Change is not coming as fast as we would like. We need to do more, and better and more quickly.”
She added, “In the 60s and 70s it was about recruiting younger members to stay vital and relevant. In 2016, the mandate is inclusion in all of its facets: gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation.”
For the second year in a row, all twenty acting nominations have been given to white actors, undoubtedly causing an outcry, also leading to hashtags on social media of #OscarsSoWhite.
As per a study conducted by the Los Angeles Times in 2012, approximately 94% of the Academy voters are white and are predominantly men. The study also found that 2% of the votes came from black voters, while less than 2% from Latinos.
Filmmaker Spike Lee, won an Oscar last year for his lifetime achievements as an actor and filmmaker. He blamed the executives who run Hollywood studios for the exclusion of ethnic minorities in contending roles. Announcing that he'll be boycotting the awards on Instagram, he questioned, “How is it possible for the 2nd consecutive year all 20 contenders under the actor category are white? And let's not even get into the other branches.”
Some of the names that did not receive a nomination include Will Smith for Concussion, Idris Elba for Beasts of No Nation, Michael B Jordan for Creed, Teyonah Parris for Chi-Raq, and Jason Mitchell for Straight Outta Compton.
69-year-old British actress, Charlotte Rampling, who has been nominated for the best actress award for her role in 45 Years, has criticised the boycott as she “found that... racist, racist for white people. One can never really know if it is the case but sometimes, perhaps, black actors did not deserve to be in the home straight.”
She further stated, “There will always be problems: he is too black, he is too white. There will always, always be someone about whom they are going to say, 'He is too [something]'. And we are going to classify all that to have thousands of little minorities everywhere?”
On the other hand, American actor, George Clooney has voice against the recent nominations, and states that Hollywood is more racist now than compared to ten years ago. He said, “If you think 10 years ago, the Academy was doing a better job. Think about how many more African Americans were nominated. I would also make the argument, I don't think it's a problem of who you're picking as much as how many options are available to minorities in films, particularly in quality films. We need to get better at this. We used to be better at it.”
This recent controversy does make one wonder whether we are actually living in an equal contemporary world, or whether there is still a long way to go until we reach that stage. While many black stars have opted to boycott the awards, what springs to my mind is that there is yet an indian actor who is to make their mark in Hollywood. Yes, we've had Aishwarya Rai, Irrfan Khan, Gulshan Grover, Amrish Puri, plus many more who have been in several “foreign” productions, and most recently, we've had Priyanka who has done remarkable well in her debut US TV show, Quantico. Priyanka Chopra even won the people's Choice Award. But how likely is it that we will be seeing an Indian name amongst the nominees in the near future? Who knows, the boycott by black stars could just the much needed eyeopener and henceforth, a new wave of ethnic actors may be able to make their mark in Hollywood while receiving great recognition for their work.