Column: Moviegoers and making a difference in Hollywood

In this Jan. 14, 2016 file photo, John Krasinski, left, and Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs announce the Academy Awards nominations for best performance by an actor in a leading role at the 88th Academy Awards nomination ceremony in Beverly Hills, Calif. The film academy is pledging to double the number of female and minority members by 2020, and will immediately diversify its leadership by adding three new seats to its board of governors. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)

Beyond the inexplicable chain of coincidences that have somehow prevented Leonardo DiCaprio from reaching peak movie star potential, the Oscars aren’t normally something that’s on my radar. In the past several years, though, there’s been a growing wave of protest on social media and in Hollywood about the almost total absence of people of color amongst award season nominees.

The numbers are telling – this year, all 20 Oscar nominees are white, making this the first time since 1980 that the Academy has gone two years in a row without nominating a person of color. Despite minority men and women constituting 37.4 percent of the U.S. population in 2013, actors of color got just 16.7 percent of lead roles that year, according the Bunche Center’s 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report.

Fingers have rightly been pointed at everything from monochromatic casting in fantasy movies like “Into the Woods”  to the whitewashing of films like “Avatar the Last Airbender,” “Ghost in the Shell” and even “Stonewall.”

Still, given the hype around “Selma,” starring David Oyelowo as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and directed by Ava DuVernay and “Beasts of No Nation,” starring Idris Elba as the brutal leader of a child army, many people expected 2016’s nominees to at least keep pace with previous Oscar seasons, in which 6.7 percent on nominations have gone to minority actors.

The main culprits, according to the Huffington Post, are “the men behind the curtain.” Members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which votes on Oscar nominees and winners, are over 90 percent white and 77 percent are male. With an average age of 64 years old, it’s not surprising that AMPAS taste in movies is limited and the fact that they’re hand picked from an almost equally homogenous industry creates a strange sort of feedback loop.

In October of last year, I attended a presentation by director and graphic novelist Dennis Liu about his most recent work, “Raising Dion,” and the lack of diversity on both sides of the camera. The Directors Guild of America’s 2015 diversity report found that 82.4 percent of feature film directors are caucasian males, with minority men making up 11.2 percent of directors. Women, of course, share the smallest slice of the pie, with women of color wearing just 1.3 percent of director’s caps.

“I think you’ll see whoevers behind the camera also reflects the people in front,” Liu, a member of the Directors Guild of America’s Eastern Diversity Steering Team, told the Daily Campus.

Liu said the best way to get more people of color and women behind the camera (and eventually get more of them in front of it in award winning roles) is to keep supporting films that aren’t traditional blockbusters, and I agree. A few movie tickets here and there aren’t going to bring a money making machine like Hollywood to its knees, but if voting with our wallets didn’t work we’d still be watching spaghetti westerns and silent films on the big screen.

In a way, it’s all part of the awesome responsibility of being a moviegoer: if we’re going to gush about our favorite films and review the latest releases, it’s also important to do what we can as audience members to address the issues within the industry that created them.


Kimberly Armstrong is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at kimberly.armstrong@uconn.edu.