#OscarsSoWhite: The White Elephant in the Room

On Jan. 14, Hollywood watched in anticipation as the nominees for the eighty-eighth Academy Awards were announced. But when the time came for the actors to receive their nominations, all 20 were white. Again. For the second year in a row.

Two Hollywood standouts, Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee, were angry, and announced they would be boycotting the Oscars this year. Smith’s husband, Will Smith, who expected to receive a nomination for “Concussion” this year, will join her.

And though he may not be joining them because he wants to honor the victims of crimes from his movie “Spotlight” at the Oscars, Mark Ruffalo, a white actor, supports the boycott. “The nominations do not reflect the diversity in our community,” he wrote on Twitter.

This diversity he’s talking about? The performances of black actors like David Oyelowo, who was not nominated last year for his adaptation of Martin Luther King Jr. in “Selma,” nor was Will Smith, who transformed himself into a Nigerian doctor with a thick accent to play Dr. Bennet Omalu in “Concussion.” And then there is the issue that one of the films of 2015 expected to get a nomination for Best Picture, “Straight Outta Compton,” was given no such thing.

So yes, when Chris Rock, an ironically black host of the awards this year, wrote on Twitter, “The Oscars. The White BET Awards,” in a way, he’s telling the truth.

Why aren’t incredible minority actors being nominated for their work?  These issues could stem from a couple different locations.  According to “The Atlantic,” 94 percent of Oscar voters are white, 76 percent are men, and out of all the voters, the average age is 63.  Get this, though.  The president of the Academy, Cheryl Boone Issacs, is a black female.  She has recognized the problem of a white-male majority voting list, and is working to find a way to diversify Academy membership.

“These new measures regarding governance and voting will have an immediate impact and begin the process of significantly changing our membership composition,” she said in an interview with USA Today.

But the problem does not stop there.  The Academy Awards nominees are a result of the critically-acclaimed films Hollywood has released in the past year.  How many of those films stand out as a diverse cast with a minority lead deserving of a nomination? Only a couple. Change race from minority to sameness, and immediately the pool widens.

Maybe the problems of race in Hollywood stem from a bigger issue: the problems of race in America. No matter how far we say we’ve come from owning slaves and segregated bathrooms, we still have not come far enough.

Movies are powerful. They mold generations, shape world-views and change lives. Unfortunately, these extremely effective ways of teaching people about the world around them and inspiring them are not sending messages with casts that reflect their audiences. If we are so proud to be a melting pot, why can’t we show it in our movies, too? If we are so proud to be an immigrant nation, mixed with diverse races and unique people, why are there still headlines in the news like Ferguson?

Something has to change. Maybe that’s the Academy nominating more minorities or Hollywood producing more diverse films. Or maybe it takes a people united to demand a difference, not just a select few bold enough to post a couple words on Twitter or share an article on Facebook. It takes a nation of people demanding equality to all, in the movie theater and in our communities.

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