By Kenneth Britton
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences caused a bit of a controversy in January when they revealed their nominations for the 2015 Academy Awards. Many complained about The Lego Movie not being nominated for Best Animated Film or Nightcrawler being snubbed in many categories, yet what seems to have the majority of the Internet ranting is the lack of diversity; not only from the actors and films they choose to nominate, but the lack of diversity from the voters themselves.
The civil rights drama, Selma, which stars British Actor David Oyelowo, about Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march, earned high critical praise and was in talks to be nominated for a couple categories, including Best Actor for Oyelowo and Best Director for Ava DuVernay, who could have been the first African American female director to be nominated. Sure enough, all of the acting categories were led by white performers while neither female writers nor directors were included in the Oscar race.
Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu, with a nomination for Birdman, was the only instance of diversity in the major categories this year. In 2012, The Los Angeles Times conducted a survey which discovered that the Academy was made up of 94 percent white-male voters with the median age of 62 years old. Could this suggest that the voters are really out of touch with the general public, along with their stance on diversity, or is the public just getting ahead of themselves here? Must we forget just last year which film won Best Picture? No, it wasn’t the space epic Gravity starring Sandra Bullock, nor was it Matthew McConaughey playing a cowboy dying of aids in Dallas Buyers Club. It was 12 Years a Slave, a story about a free black man living in the North who was kidnapped into slavery. The film won the Best Picture Oscar in 2014.
12 Years a Slave went on to win an additional two Oscars, including Lupita Nyong’o for Best Supporting Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay. While the Academy does mostly consist of white men, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that the Film Academy president is Cheryl Boone Isaacs, an African American female. Isaacs spoke out and defended the Academy’s decisions, but also hopes for improvements not only in the Academy, but in the industry as a whole.
“In the last two years, we’ve made greater strides than we ever have in the past toward becoming a more diverse and inclusive organization through admitting new members and more inclusive classes of members,” Boone Isaacs said. “And, personally, I would love to see, and look forward to seeing, a greater cultural diversity among all our nominees in all of our categories.”
The film Selma wasn’t completely snubbed either, as it was nominated for Best Picture and Best Original Song. It’s tough to argue which actor you could replace Oyelowo with. Some might also argue that several other films this year were snubbed or underappreciated in a far worse degree than Selma. Nightcrawler gave us arguably the best performance of the year with Jake Gyllenhaal, Gillian Flynn’s adaptation of her own novel for Gone Girl, and I’ve already mentioned the ridiculous snub for The Lego Movie. While Selma may have been overlooked in some categories, it’s not a reason to call the voters racists.