The 2018 Oscar Nominations have been met with praise for being a long-overdue and positive departure from the event’s past exclusivity. Half of the films nominated for Best Picture have female leads and out of the directors nominated, one is black and one is female. However, out of 9 films nominated for Best Picture, only one film – Get Out starring Daniel Kaluuya – has a black lead. This leads us to question whether the Oscars have in fact escaped their past reputation of embodying white privilege? If the Academy has gone to its best efforts to meet expectations of diversity, then lack of representation is clearly still a large-scale problem across Hollywood.
Outrage after two consecutive years of all white nominees for best actor gave birth to the viral hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. Subsequently, the Oscars were forced to address their overt diversity problem. Especially this year after the prominence of the #MeToo and #Time’sUp campaigns addressing sexual harassment, the Academy were under immense pressure to make sure their nominations did not exemplify white male domination.
In the past, the Oscars have been heavily criticised for their lack of diversity in terms of nominations. This is because the Academy’s voter demographic is predominantly made up of white males. For example, in 2016 the Academy voters were 92% white and 75% male. Obviously, this is miles away from being an accurate representation of the diversity of the American population
The Academy’s extensive history of white male domination causes industry-wide issues, as directors, with the aim of winning an Oscar, cast white male actors as the lead in order to appeal to the limited demographic of voters. Unfortunately, Academy members use their vote to assert their white male privilege by nominating a film which prolongs a tradition of white male power.
Hollywood is centred around the Oscars. For diversity in Hollywood to change, the system of the Oscar nominations needs to be reformed. Undoubtedly there have been steps towards this since 2016, as not all the nominees are white. Also, for the 2018 awards, the Academy has added 1,500 new demographically inclusive members. Hopefully these reforms in the Oscars voting system will advocate diversity across Hollywood and eliminate the need felt by directors to satisfy an exclusive board of white men. Logically, we should start to see a bigger increase in films centred around ethnic minorities.
The entire Hollywood industry encapsulates the white male elitism which pervades America. The justification of the lack of diversity in Hollywood is usually the argument of racial empathy in that white people would not relate to an ethnic minority lead. But this justification has no weight since ethnic minorities make up around 40% of America’s population.
Every year, although it is improving, the Oscars remind us of the lack of diversity in the film industry, which on a larger scale represents the dominating presence of white male privilege in America. Hollywood has the power to influence the world and has unfortunately engrained white male privilege as a societal norm. Instead, such an influential industry should be using its power to encourage a departure from a society led by privileged white men by giving marginalised communities better representation. The film industry should be encouraging directors to cast black and female leads to support campaigns for racial and gender equality in society. Hopefully the reforms to the Academy and the, albeit marginal, increase in non-white Oscar nominees will push for a re-evaluation of Hollywood’s diversity.
Clearly, there is still a long way to go before the diversity of America is fully reflected in Hollywood. Racial diversity and gender equality in the industry is essential if we are to progress towards a society in which white male privilege no longer pervades, and campaigns such as #MeToo and #Time’sUp are no longer necessary.
Image: Davidlohr Bueso via Flickr