Did you see a film with a minority lead this year? No? That’s alright, it seems like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences didn’t either. Recently, the nominations for the 87th annual Academy Awards were announced. And they were… surprising.
There were very few women nominated for any technical awards. In fact, no female writers or directors were nominated, despite the fact that Gillian Flynn adapted her novel into the film “Gone Girl” and Ava DuVernay directed “Selma” this year. If DuVernay had been nominated, she would have been the first African American woman in the category.
Not even David Oyelowo, who played Martin Luther King, Jr. in the critically acclaimed “Selma,” was nominated for an award. This is especially interesting and upsetting when viewed together with certain current events. With the tragic killings of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, the United States has displayed its rampant anti-blackness and it seems odd that such an important film would be almost completely overlooked. “Selma” was nominated for best picture but this is a small honor when compared to “Birdman” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which both received nine nominations each.
However, when given a second look, this doesn’t seem that odd for the Academy. According to an analysis conducted by the L.A. Times in 2013, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was ninety three percent white and seventy six percent male. Yes, that’s the same Academy that votes on the nominees and winners.
Not a single actor of color was nominated in the 2014 season. If this isn’t shocking, it should be. In 2013, “12 Years a Slave” did very well in the Academy Awards. Lupita Nyong’o and Chiwetel Ejiofor both won as actors so it appears that in this case, nominating actors of color was not a problem. With the success of “12 Years a Slave” in mind, it could be that the Academy considers its three awards enough representation for now.
It’s important that people know that the issue extends beyond the Academy disliking “Selma.” Movies in the past featuring minority actors and stories focused on minorities often struggle to find funding. This was a problem that even “12 Years a Slave” faced.
Black actors have been specifically mentioned above but it must also be said that Asian, Latino, and Native American actors are woefully underrepresented. And can you remember a Middle Eastern actor, writer, or director being nominated for an academy award outside of the documentary or foreign film categories? There have been many important films from minority directors that have won the documentary award, but this category never gets as much coverage or social buzz as the feature films.
The argument that there simply aren’t enough female writers, female directors, and non-white actors in the business will undoubtedly be made. Or that there just weren’t any more minority focused movies in the 2014 season that could be nominated. Giving this a moment’s thought will reveal an unfortunate truth:
It is not only the Academy’s racism and sexism that’s keeping films from winning awards, the film industry itself is barring minority lead and minority focused films from ever being made. And this trend of racial inequality will continue unless concerned movie-goers voice their criticisms openly and strongly support the minority focused films in theaters.