The Oscars step forward in diversity is good progress but not enough

In Opinion
(Courtesy of Wikimedia)

In the past few years, a lack of ethnically diverse Academy Award nominees and winners for major categories like Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Director caused major public backlash against the whitewashed award show. Whether it be in direct response to that backlash or not, this year’s Oscars have been the “most diverse in cinema history,” according to the New York Post.

While nominating Denzel Washington for Best Actor and awarding Viola Davis for Best Supporting Actress takes a positive step toward minority representation in Hollywood, it’s not enough to be considered wholly diverse.

“If you’re only seeing a particular group of people at these awards ceremony being broadcasted all over the world, people are going to assume that they are an accurate representation of everyone, and they’re not,” said Chelsea Hampton, a senior cinema and television arts major.

Considering no Latinx actors or directors were nominated for awards this year and Dev Patel being the only Asian to be nominated for Best Supporting Actor in “Lion,” a lack of cultural diversity has become a common occurrence with this awards show.

Over the past five Academy Awards, out of 125 nominations for best acting and directing awards, only three nominees were Latinx and two were Asian. Zero Latinas and Asian-American women were nominated during this time.

One would think that Hollywood would get with the program due to consistent backlash on social media and increased pressure from groups like the National Hispanic Media Coalition and Media Action Network for Asian Americans.

So why does Hollywood have such a diversity problem?

Content over the years has relied on stereotypical depictions of minorities to pass as diversity. This is typically seen in the film and television industries where minority actors are not given the same opportunities as their fellow white actors.

Minority actors are given roles such as the Latina maid, the nerdy Asian or the loud and sassy black character, while most lead roles are defaulted to be portrayed by white actors.

Opportunities for minorities are not as readily available because people involved in greenlighting projects reflect the homogeneity within Hollywood, according to LA Weekly.

Since there is so much money involved in filmmaking, studio executives stick with what has worked in the past and are hesitant to take risks in casting and choosing minority directors/actors. Using white leads over minority leads in films allows Hollywood to market a narrow view of American culture to consumers around the world.

“It’s an issue for people who want to work in this industry. They may hire you, but they hire you for a particular voice. So, (they think) a black writer could only write a certain type of movie versus a white writer, who would be able to write anything,” Hampton said.

Essentially, the image of diversity that has been an integral part of the of United States is not seen as profitable to Hollywood executives.

However, the statistics tell another story. Movies that feature a mix of white and non-white cast made a median ticket revenue of $122.2 million; more than double of the movies that feature all white actors, which made $52.6 million, according to a 2014 UCLA report.

Solving Hollywood’s diversity issue does not just include casting minority actors and actresses into different types of roles. Diversity also needs to be introduced behind the scenes with more non-white directors and producers.

“They need to open up to more stories, even stories that may not make as much money,” Hampton said. “They need to accept more writers that come from different backgrounds, not just the same writers, writing the same boring stories that we’ve heard a million times.”

Diversity is an important part of American society and culture. With ethnic minorities now making up 40.5 percent of the U.S. population, turning the spotlight away from minorities in films does not accurately represent the U.S. today.

While the Oscars managed to etch in some diversity in the show this year, it still doesn’t serve as a complete and truthful representation of the population.

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