Racism in the media is nothing new. With the media acting as a mirror to mainstream society (and vice versa), we can always see the dirty marks in our reflection that remind us that while we like to pretend prejudices have died and we have become a far more developed society, it’s never quite as simple as that. In this age where the media is inescapable, our problems are always right behind us. These days, more marginalised groups now have as much a voice as the wider, mainstream media, and they’re using that platform to point out some stuff.
With the Oscars nominations being announced last week and the winners being announced fairly soon, the Academy was going to be in for some social media scrutiny. Last year the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite was used frequently by social media users in order to highlight the lack of racial diversity in the awards nominations, and when the nominations were announced this year, there was an outcry as people were disappointed once again for the lack of minority film workers recognised in the nominations. Actress Jada Pinkett-Smith posted an emotional and strident video online to lament her dissatisfaction with the Academy and announce that she would not be attending in protest. many applauded the motion on Twitter, and she was not alone in her thoughts as Best Actress nominee Brie Larson and George Clooney echoed her sentiments.
But are we pointing our fingers in the right direction? Yes, it’s true that there was a severe lack of racial minorities in the nominations this year (and previous years haven’t been much better) but I can’t think of many films made by people of colour or any performances by people of colour that deserved those nominations. True, it’s not as if I’ve seen all the films that were released this year; but there wasn’t some great injustice to the nominations leaving out someone whose performance had been applauded greatly and not given its due recognition.
The reason for this is the racism within the film industry itself. It’s because people of colour are shown the door at the big-budget Oscar film auditions. It’s because directors are mostly white and mostly male, and there’s not much room in that club for anyone else. For so long, stories have been told by the white, the male and the privileged. This is the root of the problem- movies aren’t casting people of colour out of fear that it will alienate audiences, not considering how they are effectively alienating talented actors and actresses, alienating potential to change the scope of the movie world.
For so long, stories have been told by the white, the male and the privileged. This is the root of the problem
Thing’s are changing, yes, but slowly; for every Steve McQueen, there’s ten Clint Eastwoods, for every Lupita Nyong’o, there’s twenty Julia Roberts. Clint Eastwood and Julia Roberts are very talented people, yes, but this doesn’t explain why there isn’t an equal ratio being represented. The only film this year I can think of that merited applause that included a great deal of people of colour was Straight Outta Compton, the N.W.A. biopic which many thought deserved more recognition. But that’s just one film.
So it strikes me as missing the point when people bemoan the lack of minorities represented in the Oscars. They can only do the best with what they have. When there’s a lack of films representing talented people of colour, that’s going to have a domino effect on the amount of awards recognising them.
So bemoan not the Oscars, but the people sitting in the red velvet seats, soaking up the glory of another box office and awards-season hit, the heads of film companies who seem disinterested in telling stories little-heard by the mainstream. There needs to be a conversation on why so many films are being white-washed by studios in order to…what? Make them more palatable to a racist audience? The shock casting of Rooney Mara in last year’s adaptation of Peter Pan as the Native American character Tiger Lily was just a drop in the ocean in comparison to the casting choices by Ridley Scott of Exodus: Gods and Kings, where characters of Egyptian ethnicity were played by mostly white actors. These are the problems that should have fallen out of fashion long ago.
It’s time for a conversation about racism in the film industry, yes, but make sure most of the vitriol is pointed in the right direction.