Why Academy Members’ Lack-of-Diversity Is An Important Conversation


oscar_statueI’ve heard a whole lot about this topic from many different sides of the conversation lately. I come at this already not being a fan of the Oscars as a representation of film and cinema and I gave up watching them several years ago.

It’s been suggested by some (or many, even) that the reason for the complete lack of minority nominations this year may just be that the performances by non-white actors simply weren’t as good this year as the other’s nominated. Or that it’s a numbers game and there are fewer films and performances to choose from that highlight and showcase non-white actors and stories. While that second statement is certainly true for Hollywood and is something that desperately needs to change, it’s still far too easy an answer as to why most of the nominees this year are white. And it misses a crucial part of the point.

Here’s why I think the lack-of-diversity complaint that is taking place now is undeniably spot on: I know someone who has been in the industry most of their life and has been successful. This person is white. This person is older. And this person said to me that they walked out of the movie FRUITVALE STATION, not because it was a bad movie or that this person didn’t like the performances, but because, and this is verbatim, “I’m just not interested in movies about the black experience.” 

I don’t share that story to be judgmental. I share that in order to point out that a more diverse nominating committee and Academy membership would more accurately (and, yes, fairly) represent the human experiences that come to us via cinema. The above comment, I assure you, is not a unique or rare one. And while I applaud its honesty, I mourn its sentiment and implications. It certainly tells us something about our society, something I believe demands attention. And while we can’t make people care or be interested in stories they don’t feel speak to them personally (though I would insist it’s the human experience that is being shared and that there is something universal in every story and performance), we can — and I believe should — represent stories, storytellers, and audiences equally. Especially if this is an award supposedly voted on by one’s peers. To do anything less in a culture and national community is, in its own way, a very real form of racism. To place one set of experiences over another as being more important, more universal, or simply more popular, is to diminish the stories, experiences, and voices that make up this country and this planet. And in such an environment, we all lose. We lose our ability to grow, to learn, to have empathy, to connect. The power of cinema is great. To limit it in such a way is to squander it. And the Academy Awards is a show that is broadcast across the globe. Like it or not, it has impact and the messages it puts out there, consciously or unconsciously, resonate.

In the end, I suppose it all comes down to how the Academy wishes their Oscar award to be seen, what it means and what it represents for them. If it’s meant to be seen as the mostly older white American male cinema award, then by all means, maintain the status quo. If they envision, imagine, or hope it to be more than that, then yes, very real change is the only way to make that happen. And that should be done –not begrudgingly as a form of “giving in” or pandering — but as a reflection and celebration of real growth and evolution, an embracing of the power of cinema as a representation of the human experience, the human journey.

And yes, the above comment raises a whole slew of other conversations and comments and insights that I think deserve to be addressed and explored. I am just commenting here on this one aspect. Feel free to take it further.

Why Academy Members’ Lack-of-Diversity Is An Important Conversation

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