The 88th Academy Awards will prove to be one of those historic Hollywood nights that will surely be a game changer, and it hasn't even aired yet. Not only is Chris Rock hosting the prestigious award show but with the #OscarsSoWhite controversy and the #boycottoscars push running rampant ever since the nominations were announced, the evening will certainly be worth watching. We're all dying to know: What will Hollywood's A-listers have to say about the lack of diversity in their own industry?
Let's backtrack for a second though, because this obviously is not the first time the Oscars have been SO WHITE in their 88-year history. Still, with so many great performances to choose from and the increasing diversity on the big screen, the lack of minority actors with Oscar nominations is glaring. It's 2016, but, apparently, Hollywood hasn't gotten the memo.
Of the countless films that came out last year, several featured amazing performances from people of color. From Michael B. Jordan in Creed to the incredible cast of Straight Outta Compton to Idris Elba's turn in Beasts of No Nation, directed by Cary Fukunaga, it's not like there was a lack of choices. Will Smith got mixed reviews for his starring role in Concussion, but it doesn't really matter because none of these performances nor movies were even nominated. Even more startling is that the only people involved in Creed (a film starring and directed by black men) and Straight Out of Compton who did get got nominations for their work were white. What about Latinos? Benicio Del Toro was overlooked for his role in Sicario, as well as Oscar Isaac for his amazing performance in Ex Machina. And don't even get us started on the lack of juicy, Oscar-worthy roles for women of color. How is this not a slap in the face for all of us?
A 2013 report in The Los Angeles Times indicated that "despite recent efforts by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to expand and diversify its ranks, the overall group of 6,028 Academy Award voters were 93 percent white." The exact break down is as follows: 77 percent male, 2 percent black, 2 percent Latino, and .5 percent Asian, Native combined. And absolutely nothing has changed since then.
Last year, the African American Academy president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, finally addressed the lack of diversity issue and announced a new initiative called A2020, with the mission "to help remedy the problem by encouraging the industry to open up more opportunities for women and minorities." But she made sure that it was known that the Academy "has no power over Hollywood. We have nothing to do with hiring. What we can do, however, is to get them to widen their normal stream of thought." Hmmmm, what we need is more action and less talk.
Latinos have it even tougher in Hollywood, which George Clooney was kind of enough to point out. Gustavo Arellano, editor of OC Weekly, says one way to combat this lack of diversity in Hollywood is to put more Latinos in charge of projects. "More Latino executives means more people willing to green-light projects," Arellano said. "Without them, Latino creatives must wait in line behind all the gabacho creatives, whose ideas seem more 'mainstream' to said executives."
Arellano, who also serves as a lecturer with the Chicana and Chicano Studies department at California State University, Fullerton, knows a thing or two about Latinos in Hollywood. In 2014, he joined the creative team for Seth MacFarlane's animated series Bordertown on Fox, along with well known Mexican cartoonist and writer Lalo Alcaraz.
At least television seems to be getting a bit more diverse, and it was never more noticeable than at the 2016 Screen Actors Guild Awards. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to diverse TV," actor Idris Elba said after a slew of minority actors were awarded for their work. The New York Times did a profile of a variety of shows that feature a diverse cast including in new shows such as Jennifer Lopez in Shades of Blue, Aziz Ansari in Master of None, and old favorites like Kerry Washington in Scandal, Viola Davis in How to Get Away With Murder, and basically the entire cast of Grey's Anatomy. Speaking of the incomparable Shonda Rhimes (creator of ABC's entire TGIT slate), the Producers Guild recently honored her with a Norman Lear Award for Achievement in Television. During her acceptance speech she sarcastically said, “I have against the odds, courageously pioneered the art of writing for people of color as if they were human beings."
Rhimes kept it light but basically she was doubling down on what Arellano said, we need people of color in decision making positions in order to start seeing realistic reflections of society on both the big and small screen. We have taken some baby steps when it comes to TV, but there is still such a far way to go.
It is definitely possible to produce solid work featuring talent that just so happens to be minority. Back in the mid-'80s to early aughts Hollywood made several Latino films that are now classics. "We had Selena, Mi Familia, Stand and Deliver and more," Arellano said. "I'd argue that back then, executives would at least throw a bone or a film to unproven Chicanos because they felt it was the right thing to do. Now, everything is about action heroes and established personalities, of which there are not many Latinos."
We realize that the word "diversity" gets thrown around a lot, and people have argued that talent is talent regardless of color. That's all fine, but just imagine eating the same white bread day after day. Where's the joy in that?
So we'll be counting on Rock to not hold back any punches with his monologue at the Oscars. And the fact is we can always hit Hollywood heavyweights where it truly hurts, in the wallet, by supporting movies and television with strong, diverse casts and talent behind them. That kind of blow they never forget.