Column: Why #OscarsSoWhite actually matters

In this March 2, 2014 file photo, an Oscar statue is displayed at the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Since the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences said that it was altering membership rules in response to an outcry over the diversity of its voters and of its nominees, another uproar has erupted around Hollywood. (Matt Sayles/Invision/AP, File)

For the second year in a row, all nominees for an acting-related Oscar are white. This announcement sparked a national conversation about racism in Hollywood, as well as a twitter hashtag, “#OscarsSoWhite,” to follows expressions of disbelief and frustration. But beyond that, the hashtag called into the question the place of minorities within Hollywood and the film industry.

On Thursday, Jan. 14, the nominees for the 88th Academy Awards (also known as the Oscars) were released. In a move that many did not find shocking, all of the nominees in acting categories were white. In response, many called for a boycott of the Oscars. Others reacted by calling the BET Awards racist for not having any white nominees for their yearly awards.

Both sides have equally valid points to some extent; BET has only nominated about five or six non-black people for awards since its inception, while only a handful of non-whites were nominated for awards this year at the Academy Awards.

In response to the large out-pouring of anger towards the Academy Awards’ nominations, the Academy changed its by-laws, promising an increased representation for minorities and women on its board of voters by 2020.

This response seems to be a solution to the issues raised by many in the #OscarsSoWhite; yet in reality the move does not actually do anything to address the problems raised by this dialogue. This move by the Academy would mean something if this was the first time that all nominees up for an acting award were white, however, this isn’t the case. The Academy is just ignoring the fact that the minority actor has not been afforded a real place in the Hollywood of today. 

To put this statement into perspective, compare two of the movies nominated for Oscars thus year; Creed and Straight Outta Compton. Both movies are based on the story of young African-American men trying to rise out of their current class in order to make life better for themselves. For both films, the only people nominated for awards are white (Sylvester Stallone in Creed and Jonathan Herman for the Screenplay in Straight Outta Compton).

This is not to say that both Stallone and Herman do not deserve accolades for their work. Instead it speaks to the idea that Hollywood has not moved past the structure of 1960s. The young actors who were able to flawlessly replicate NWA at its height were deserving of recognition and nomination. Idris Elba also deserved recognition and nomination for his role as the brutal war-lord known as the Commandant in Beasts of No Nation.

These actors deserve to stand up on the same stage as their white counterparts. Nobody is saying that they necessarily have to win either. If voters believe that Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant deserves an Oscar (and we all think that he does) over Michael B. Jordan in Creed, then he should bring home the trophy. Minority actors should at least be given a chance to fight for the title when their acting performances are deserving. 

#OscarsSoWhite showed the world how ignored minorities are in Hollywood. There is certainly not a lacking of minority actors and actresses in Hollywood. Some of today’s most powerful and recognized stars are African American, Asian American and Hispanic American; yet for all their representation, they, for the most part, lack the accolades of their white counterparts.

This is why award ceremonies like the BET Awards exist. They exist to allow African-Americans to earn the recognition and rewards that they deserve. And to argue that these other award ceremonies are racist is to admit that you are too scared to see Hollywood move forward.

It’s an attachment to an old-guard mentality that minorities are not deserving of a place at the table, in Hollywood or otherwise. If society pushes a group of people to the outskirts of any field, then they will be forced to find a way to celebrate themselves even in society doesn’t want them to.

The hashtag “#OscarsSoWhite” highlights the blatant discrimination and inequality in Hollywood. The only way Hollywood can move forward is by eliminating systemic racism and truly changing the way minority actors and actresses, deserving of the same accolades as their contemporaries, are recognized.


Amar Batra is a contributor to the Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at amar.batra@uconn.edu. He tweets at @amar_batra19.