Oscar nominations fail to recognize people of color



Basma Humadi, Staff Writer

This year marks the 88th Academy Awards ceremony, better known as the Oscars, which will be hosted by Chris Rock on February 28 at 8:30 p.m. on ABC.

Each year the Academy Award nominations are dedicated to highlighting the best of cinema and to honoring the impact movies make on our hearts. Through snubs and scene-stealers, the Oscars — and the weeks leading up to them — are here to remind us of the progress we’ve made and of the potential we have to do better.

“If a movie is really working, you forget for two hours your social security number and where your car is parked. You are having a vicarious experience. You are identifying, in one way or another, with the people on the screen,” Roger Ebert, a late esteemed movie critic, once said.

“The Revenant,” directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, leads the nominations, with 12 to its name. “Mad Max,” the dystopian thriller is up next with 10 nominations. “The Martian” and “Spotlight” are also racking up nominations, with seven and six, respectively.

However, this year also marks another year of snubs, or lack of nominations, for some, as this is the second year none of the 20 actors nominated is a person of color. Cynthia J. Fuchs, the director of the film and media studies department at Mason, agrees that the Academy overlooked some deserving actors and films.

“I am struck by the nominees’ predictability,” Fuchs said. “This in itself is predictable. The industry and especially the awards season work by multiple means, including networking, campaigning, and rule-making that tends to support a status quo. This doesn’t allow much for recognition of innovation or for looking beyond the most obvious horizons.”

As for which titles and actors may have deserved nominations, Fuchs mentioned quite a few: “It’s hard to know where to start a list of what’s overlooked. These include any number of great documentaries (for examples, ‘Heart of a Dog,’ ‘In Jackson Heights,’ ‘Dreamcatcher,’ and last semester’s GMU Visiting Filmmakers Series event, ‘(T)Error,’ by Lyric Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe). It’s good that Iñárritu has caught the Academy’s attention, but really, some new people need to be part of the mix. Among the deserving: Idris Elba, Ryan Coogler, Tessa Thompson, Mya Taylor.”

After the nominations were posted, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite began trending on Twitter for the second year in a row. Many celebrities have spoken out about the lack of diversity this year, and some have even advocated to boycott the awards ceremony.

Actress Jada Pinkett Smith expressed her disappointment on her Facebook and Twitter accounts, saying, “At the Oscars … people of color are always welcomed to give out awards … even entertain, but we are rarely recognized for our artistic accomplishments. Should people of color refrain from participating all together? People can only treat us in the way in which we allow. With much respect in the midst of deep disappointment, J.”

Spike Lee, African American filmmaker and director of movies such as “Chi-raq,” “Malcolm X” and “Do the Right Thing,” has also decided to protest the Academy Awards. Though he was awarded an Honorary Academy Award at the Academy’s 7th Annual Governors Awards show in November, Lee senses the urgent need for change.

On January 18, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Lee posted on his Instagram account regarding his decision to not attend the Oscars:

“Dr. King said, ‘There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it’s right,’ For too many years, when the Oscar nominations are revealed, my office phone rings off the hook with the media asking me my opinion about the lack of African-Americans and this year was no different. For once (maybe), I would like the media to ask all the white nominees and studio heads how they feel about another all-white ballot.”

Despite its shortcomings, the Academy has recognized some very progressive and wonderfully constructed films this year. “Mad Max: Fury Road” tells a smart story about survival after the collapse of civilization, and the quest to find the Green Place where there is life and water. “Spotlight” follows the true story of a team of journalists writing for The Boston Globe as they uncover the hierarchy of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. “Carol” takes place in 1950s Manhattan and follows a love affair between two women, which would have been forbidden at the time. Another historical nonfiction film, “The Big Short,” thoroughly explains the buildup of the housing crisis which peaked in the late 2000s.

Tahreem Chaudhry, a neuroscience major at Mason, enjoyed many of the films that came out in 2015. “I watched ‘The Martian’ with my family and thought it was a great movie,” Chaudhry said. “It’s an interesting movie about a man trying to live on Mars. As for the Oscars, I’d love to see Leonardo DiCaprio win for best actor because he really deserves it after all these years.”

And, despite her wish for a more diverse pool of nominees, Fuchs is pleased to see that the Academy has recognized some of strides films made this past year. “I’m hopeful that Phyllis Nagy will be recognized for her screenplay for ‘Carol,’” Fuchs said. “It’s an unusually spare screenplay, almost impressionistic. … I’m pleased to see Asif Kapadia’s Amy nominated for ‘Best Doc,’ as well as ‘Winter on Fire.’ George Miller has perfected the ‘Mad Max’ movie, and Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s ‘Mustang’ is smart and new and energetic. I like the screenplay for ‘Ex Machina,’ and I’m sorry Oscar Isaac isn’t nominated for Supporting Actor.”

As for Fuchs, the movie she would most like to see win is “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

“Of these nominees, I prefer ‘Mad Max Fury Road,’ because it invests in a sly but still recognizable progressive politics, it’s solid filmmaking, beautifully shot and great,” Fuchs said.