In his opening monologue for this year’s Oscars, Neil Patrick Harris joked about the awards honouring “Hollywood’s best and whitest- sorry, brightest”, seemingly indicating at least a modicum of self-awareness about the glaring lack of diversity in the list of nominees this year. However, this small attempt at addressing an important and frustrating issue falls flat when you consider the atmosphere of comfortable privilege permeating the room, and the reality of the absence of work by people of colour among the films being celebrated.
In particular, the critically acclaimed civil rights drama Selma, while given a Best Picture nod, was arguably snubbed for a Best Director nomination. Had Ava DuVernay’s superb work been been acknowledged, it would have been an exciting and groundbreaking victory; the four women to ever be nominated in this category over the past 87 years have all been white. The stellar performance of the film’s lead, David Oyelowo, wasn’t deemed worthy of a nomination either. In fact, all 20 acting contenders this year were white.
Out of 7,000 Academy Award voters, 94 per cent are white and 76 per cent are male, with an average age of 63 – statistics that are so non-diverse as to almost be absurd. While lack of diversity within the awards itself obviously does not mean work by filmmakers is being ignored by audiences altogether, the fact that they are excluded from the most prestigious awards points towards an insidious tendency to only acknowledge art that reflects the voters’ (white, male) experiences. Though deserving performances by white actors should clearly be honoured, they should not be the only ones recognised for their work, and a more inclusive group of voters would ensure that a wider range of films are given the appreciation they deserve.
It is, however, notable that Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu won Best Director for his film Birdman, which also claimed the title of Best Picture. While this is undeniably encouraging, the blatant absence of diverse talent being acknowledged by the Academy is frankly embarrassing and promotes the same narrow collection of stories centred exclusively on white men that we have seen rewarded year after year.
If the Oscars are still to remain relevant, they must begin to show they appreciate a broad range of art which actually reflects the diversity of the world around us.