By Jessica Berget, Staff Writer
Remember all the great actors of colour who were nominated for an award at the 2016 Oscars? The 2015 Oscars? No? That’s because there wasn’t a single one. For the past two consecutive years, the Academy Awards has neglected to recognize actors of colour for their talents. Why? Because the Oscars are racist. Plain and simple.
The Oscars have been celebrating white supremacy since they first started in 1929. It wasn’t until 1940 that the first Black actress, Hattie McDaniel, won an award for best supporting actress for her role as “Mammy” in Gone with the Wind. An award for which she had to have special permission to receive because of the hotel’s “whites only” policy. Even then, McDaniel was not allowed to sit with her white colleagues, and instead sat at a small table in the back of the room. It seems that according to the Academy, people of colour can be recognized for their talents as long as it makes white people look good, but not recognized as people.
The Oscars diversity controversy is not just black and white. Since 1929, in the 88 years the Oscars have taken place, only 6.4 per cent of the best actor and actress or best supporting actor and actress recipients have been people of colour. Unpacking this percentage and looking over the awardees, 15 of them have been Black, 5 have been Latino, 3 Asian, and exactly none have been Native American. Fast forward to now and not much has changed. Yes, some movies with more diverse casts and stories are being produced, but they are receiving little to no recognition. This is not the first time whitewashing has dominated the Oscars, it is far from it. In the 21st century, 95 per cent of Oscar nominations have gone to white actors. People of colour are being under-represented, while white people are being over-represented.
There’s the argument that there are no good actors of colour, or that movies featuring non-white actors do not deserve to win simply because they were not good enough. However, considering the obvious disregard for the many fantastic actors and actresses from the past two years such as O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton), Michael B. Jordan (Creed) (which Michael B. Jordan’s white counterpart Sylvester Stallone was nominated for), Oscar Isaac (Ex-Machina), Mya Taylor (Tangerine) and Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation), this argument holds no weight.
Even when non-white actors are recognized for their roles in major films, these roles are only taken seriously as long as they do not take away from their white counterparts or follow some sort of racialized archetype. Roles are often reduced to maids or slaves (Lupita Ny’ong’o in 12 Years a Slave, Hattie McDaniel in Gone With The Wind.), the ‘exotic’ lover (Penélope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Halle Berry in Monsters Ball) or the classic thug trope (Denzel Washington in Training Day, Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men). On the other hand, white people are often given these awards when playing a non-white character as we have seen with Linda Hunt as Billy Kwan in The Year of Living Dangerously (1982), William Hurt as Louise Molina in Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985) and Jennifer Connolly as Alicia Lardé in A Beautiful Mind (2001).
When it comes to discussing racism at the Oscars, the facts are undeniable. Films should represent people of all races, ethnicities, and religions appropriately, as they should be a reflection of the world. The world is not 95 per cent white, so there is no reason the Oscars should be representing it as such.