Why the lack of diversity in the Oscars is a disservice to films

In 2014, “12 Years a Slave” won the Oscar for Best Picture. It was the first film with a predominately non-white cast to win the award since 2008’s “Slumdog Millionaire.”

In both 2015 and 2016, no movies featuring predominantly non-white casts were nominated by the Academy for Best Picture, and many that were, only received nominations for their (white) producers and directors.

2015 had the least diverse Oscars since 1998. This year will be no different, despite the presence of critically acclaimed movies with predominantly non-white casts such as “Creed” and “Beasts of No Nation”.

This is especially egregious this year with films such as “Straight Outta Compton” and “Beasts of No Nation.” As previously mentioned, they are noticeably lacking acting nominations, while their (white) producers and directors are being nominated.

This doesn’t mean that those directors and producers don’t deserve those nominations because of their race, just as it doesn’t mean that an actress deserves a nomination because of her race.

The issue here is that, for a country as diverse as the U.S., there is a lack of diversity in the nominations as a whole. Yes, the Oscars do focus on films from outside the country, but as a whole, most of the films considered are American-made. This lack of diversity showcases a failure to demonstrate the wide range of stories that films can tell and keeps many films away from the public eye by depriving them of a spotlight.

The film industry is the not what it used to be. Last year’s critical darling “Selma” was directed by Ava DuVernay, a black woman, who was later nominated for a Golden Globe. Independent film studio Troma Entertainment is set to distribute “The B.C. Butcher” later this year, a film directed and written by 16-year-old Kansas Bowling.

It would be nice to see signs of that demographic shift in the Oscars.

One should not be nominated for awards merely on the basis of their race, gender or creed: they should be nominated for talent.

An awards ceremony for a field as large as the Academy Awards should reflect the diversity of the talent and the field, as well as the diversity of the audience that watches the films.

We shouldn’t have a ceremony that fails to do justice to the medium of film.

The stories and emotions a writer or director creates are inspired by the events of their life and their experiences with society. Because we do not live in a perfect world, the life experiences of, say, a white man vs. a black woman will be starkly different, resulting in very different stories. Likewise, different genres showcase different aspects of the human condition and creativity.

Not all films that get Oscar nominations are in the mainstream’s eye prior to their nomination. Through the mere act of being nominated, those films are elevated to public attention. By removing diversity from the awards ceremony, the Academy deprives diverse films of a place in the spotlight and simplifies the narrative of films to a handful of pieces most likely already mainstream.

By ignoring the diversity in film, the Academy does a disservice to the medium of film and to general creativity. By only giving one viewpoint the bulk of the Academy’s focus year after year, we simplify the narrative and art of film to mere routine. After all, what joy is there in a movie if we know the ending? 

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Reach the columnist at drsmit19@asu.edu or follow @Maxx_Lazerblast on Twitter.

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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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