Oscar nominees spark strong opinions amongst cinema students and faculty

This year’s Academy Awards nominations were greeted with a large amount of controversy after it was revealed that every actor and actress that received a major nomination was white.

#OscarsStillSoWhite began trending on social media this year after the list of nominees that was revealed appeared to be even whiter than past years.

Junior cinema student Nicole Chandler said she thinks diversity is definitely an issue in the film industry.

“I think we see a better, more diverse set of people on television but not in film,” Chandler said.

2014 did include wins for “12 Years A Slave,” which received an Oscar for Best Picture and won Lupita Nyong’o an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Latinos also earned recognition with Alfonso Cuaron’s Best Director win for his film ‘Gravity’.

The #OscarsSoWhite hashtag first made its appearance on social media last year after it was revealed in The Atlantic that 94 percent of academy voters were white, 76 percent were male and the average age amongst the group was 63 years old.

“The Oscars have always been geared towards old white men,” Chandler said. “I never used to watch it anyway, so I probably won’t watch it this year either.”

Cinema professor Steve Choe cited the work done by black actors like Michael B. Jordan in “Creed” and Idris Elba in “Beasts of No Nation,” as excellent performances that were worthy of a nomination. 

“It’s not racist to remain critical of race in the nomination process,” Choe said. “Perhaps the academy needs younger voters.” 

 Larry Clark, a professor in the cinema department, agrees that the film industry isn’t in tune with current audiences.

 “The film industry has almost always been behind the curve of the youth and what they want to see on screen,” Clark said. 

Shortly after the uproar over the this year’s nominee diversity, new rules were put in place that prevent academy members from voting after 10 years of inactivity. Actor Will Smith said he was “very pleased with how quickly and aggressively” the academy responded with their new rules.  

Graphic by Kelsey LanninKelsey Lannin

Graphic by Kelsey Lannin

 

Alex Ajayi, a junior cinema student, was also among those that were let down with this year’s nominees.

 “I’m disappointed, but not too surprised,” Ajayi said. “In 2012 we had Ang Lee win for ‘Life of Pi,’ and ’12 Years A Slave’ won in 2014. After such big wins for people of color in years past, it was sad to see this year’s list of nominees.”  

Clark said he thinks it’s important to recognize the progress the industry has made, but also to recognize that the issue isn’t solely centered around awards ceremonies.

 “There have been some positive influences but it needs to be sustained,” Clark said. “The problem isn’t the Oscars, the problem is systemic.”

 Chandler agrees with Clark that the issue of diversity in film is a systemic problem, and one that stems from executives at the top and trickles down to the actors or actresses that they hire for their films.

2015 UCLA study showed that while casting of actors and actresses of color may be on the rise, they are still outnumbered 2-to-1 when it comes to being cast in lead roles.

“I think people are hesitant when creating different roles,” Chandler said. “It’s odd because in other forms of entertainment, like on Broadway, we see much more diversity, even for non-black people of color.” 

Ajayi said he feels as though people of color are underrepresented because those within the industry aren’t demanding for more immediate representation. 

 “I feel like visibility for people of color in the film industry has vastly improved since the ’80s, but we should always be pushing for more,” Ajayi said.

Celebrities like Jada Pinkett-Smith and Spike Lee have both spoken out against this year’s nominees due to the fact that black actors were largely ignored, and both insisted on a boycott for the awards ceremony, which takes place Feb. 28.  Despite this recent call to action, Clark insists the issue of diversity in Hollywood is not a new one. 

 “This has been with us since the film industry began years ago – it’s not something new,” Clark said. “Hollywood tends to take five steps forward and then two steps back when it comes to making progress on this front.”

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