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If last year’s minority-free acting nominations led to the protest hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, this year’s all-white lineup is sure to trigger a fresh expression of outrage, #OscarsStillSoWhite.
Once again, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences did not nominate any black actors to any of the 20 slots in the four acting categories.
Further compounding the lack of diversity among the top categories, Straight Outta Compton, the drama about the rise of the rap group N.W.A, although it got an original screenwriting nomination, failed to earn a best picture nomination, even though the critically acclaimed movie has been recognized by other groups like SAG-AFTRA, which nominated its cast for a best ensemble award.
“It almost seems like a sequel to last year,” commented Gil Robertson, president of the African American Film Critics Association. “Certainly, the people who were nominated gave performances that were deserving of noms. But one would have hoped that given the nominations a film like Straight Outta Compton has received from other guilds, it would have received a best picture nomination. That just leaves you scratching your head, because there is overlap between the Academy and the other groups. So where does the disconnect take place?”
The Academy has made a concerted effort to diversify its own membership, which traditionally has been heavily older, white and male, inviting 322 new members this past July that included Selma star David Oyelowo, British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who appears in Concussion, and Compton director F. Gary Gray. And Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs has also announced a new initiative called A2020 to further diversify the Academy itself and also encourage the industry to open up more opportunities for women and minorities. It’s also selected Chris Rock to make his second appearance as emcee of the Oscar broadcast, which this years airs Feb. 28.
When it comes to voting for its annual awards, the Academy is at the mercy of the industry itself and whatever films are produced and released in a given year.
This year, only a handful of awards-caliber films focused on black stories, like Compton or the Africa-set Beasts of No Nation, or featured black actors in prominent roles like Will Smith in Concussion, Michael B. Jordan in Creed, Idris Elba in Beasts and Samuel L. Jackson in The Hateful Eight.
Other minority performers — like the Puerto Rico-born Benicio Del Toro, who was touted as a possible best supporting actor nominee for his performance as a CIA operative with a private agenda in Sicario. Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor, the transgender actresses were were nominated for Spirit Awards for Tangerine — were also overlooked.
Elba was nominated by BAFTA, SAG-AFTRA and the Golden Globes for his performance as an African warlord in Beasts, and Del Toro, a past Oscar winner for Traffic, was nominated by BAFTA for Sicario.
But though the Academy itself had opportunities to recognize performers of color, it didn’t take them.
“The Academy really must redouble its efforts to be more diverse in terms of its membership,” Robertson said, “because its members are seeing things through a totally different lens that every other group around town.”