Oscars 2016: Do We Really “All Dream in Gold?”

Emily Solomon ’17 / Emertainment Monthly President

We All Dream in Gold Promotional Banner
Photo Credit: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

“I guess I’ll do my best to represent the 3 billion Asians out there.” The remark comes from Amy director Asif Kapadia following the 88th Annual Academy Awards nominations announced this morning. It’s a statement that speaks volumes about the state of the nominations and the state of the Academy as a whole, where the voters are over 90% white and over 70% male.

For the second year in a row, 20 out of 20 of acting nominations have been awarded to white actors. Between both screenplay categories, the Directing category, and the Cinematography category, there is one nomination for a person of color: Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Directing nomination for The Revenant. The numbers are stark, but perhaps not unsurprising.

And it goes beyond numbers; there’s much to be said about who was recognized, and for what.

Perhaps the two clearest examples of this are Creed and Straight Outta Compton, which were honored today with one nomination each. Creed, directed by Ryan Coogler, stars Michael B. Jordan, while Straight Outta Compton was directed and produced by black artists and features a predominantly black cast.

Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan in Creed
Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan in Creed. Photo Credit: MGM Pictures

But the nominations for Creed and Straight Outta Compton are for a white actor and white writers, respectively. Sylvester Stallone is nominated for reprising his role as Rocky Balboa. Just as they were at the Golden Globes, Michael B. Jordan, Ryan Coogler, and the film itself are left out. In the case of Straight Outta Compton: the director, producers, and actors have taken a backseat to the two screenwriters, Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff. These are films that were largely—if not entirely—created and rendered by black artists and creators, and yet the nominations do nothing to reflect this.

The gaps don’t stop there. Will Smith is missing from the “Best Actor” nominations; in fact, Concussion, a movie centered around corruption in a trade corporation that relies on and commodifies black men (almost 70% of NFL players are black), is absent entirely. Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again” was omitted from the “Best Original Song” category. Beasts of No Nation, set in Nigeria and starring Idris Elba, was snubbed with zero nominations as well. Dope, produced by Forest Whitaker and written/directed by Rick Famuyiwa, was also completely shut out from the nominations.

It ought to go without saying that this is only a few of the many artists and many films by and featuring people of color that deserved more recognition today.

In terms of gender, the gains were also minimal to nonexistent. There were no women nominated in the Cinematography and Directing categories. Following announcements that only 20% of 2015’s Black List scripts are written by women, only four women were nominated across both writing categories.

The Best Director nominees
Best Director Nominees. Photo Credit: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Cinematography and directing, as fields, are male-dominated, which means we’re left once again with the “is it the chicken or the egg” question: is it because women aren’t given the chance that there are no nominations, or does a lack of nominations fail to inspire faith in women artists and keep them from those jobs? It’s a recursive cycle, and it seems like change is coming in a trickle: The Center for the Study of Women in Television in Film found that 9% of the 250 top-grossing films of 2015 were directed by women.

This will make for the sixth year in a row that no women are nominated in the Directing category, the last one being for Kathryn Bigelow’s nomination for The Hurt Locker at the 82nd Annual show. After Ava DuVernay’s snub last year, it feels like salt in the wound. The cinematography field also saw little indication of change, with work like Maryse Alberti’s turn on Creed ignored.

It’s also worth noting that Eddie Redmayne was nominated for his role in The Danish Girl, making this the second time in three years a cisgender man has received an Oscar nomination for playing a transgender woman. The last was Jared Leto’s nomination—and subsequent win—for Best Supporting Actor in his role of Rayon in 2013’s Dallas Buyers Club. It’s a troubling pattern that is hopefully on its way out, given greater and louder calls for casting trans actors in trans roles.

To be clear: this isn’t about the Academy having a particular hatred for people of color, or for women or others that fall outside the cisgender white man demographic. This is about the Academy having a lack of interest in those stories, and rewarding the same kinds of stories and performances we’ve seen dozens of times before. When the average age of the Academy is 63 and and they’re likely a man or white or—even more likely—both, this isn’t exactly shocking. It’s why a shift in the culture is necessary, from the most elite circles to the filmmakers and actors just starting out.

Ultimately, viewers at home will be watching a show that doesn’t look much different than last year’s Oscars. When it comes to diversity, visibility is crucial, and it has to exist on all levels—from the smallest of television shows to the biggest blockbusters. The film industry is a cornerstone of today’s media landscape, and it’s meant to serve as a self-reflexive element of our culture. What we see on screen is both an informant and informer of our society, and the people creating those images serve as models for aspiring artists.

For the Academy to remain so one dimensional in both population and in terms of the artists and stories it chooses to recognize is thus, at best, disingenuous and, at worst, downright irresponsible. The advertising campaign for this year’s ceremony is “We All Dream in Gold.” Based on these nominations, I’m more inclined to say that the Academy dreams in the color white.

The 88th Annual Academy Awards will be broadcast on Sunday, February 28th on ABC. A full list of the nominees can be found here.

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