Lee: Awards season not inclusive

BY ASHLEY LEE | JANUARY 24, 2014 5:00 AM

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On Jan. 12, I didn’t watch the Golden Globes. It wasn’t because I’m a young adult who supposedly had better things to do, but because I didn’t want to spend my evening frustrated with yet another award ceremony in which the nominees and winners are predominantly white.

I wasn’t frustrated that any particular actor or actress unfairly won a Golden Globe, necessarily. My irritation is rooted instead in the lack of racial diversity among Hollywood’s leaders, period.

The Golden Globes and the Oscars are the most well-respected, highly acclaimed award ceremonies of the year, and they are regulated almost entirely by white people. A 2012 investigation by the Los Angeles Times found that more than 90 percent of Oscar voters are white and more than three-fourths are men.

Moreover, because most influential movie critics with the power to determine what is “great” in mainstream culture are white, winners of these awards receive significantly more validation than winners at multicultural award shows.

Granted, the entertainment industry has improved from the days of minstrelsy. We see Kerry Washington and Mindy Kaling with their own TV shows. Shonda Rhimes is the mastermind behind both “Scandal” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” Sasheer Zamata has joined “Saturday Night Live.” Even “New Girl” and “Sleepy Hollow” have several brown and black cast members.

And yet, though most people would agree that awards shows such as the Golden Globes have nothing to do with race, they still do an extraordinary job excluding writers and actors of color.

12 Years A Slave won best picture for drama, yet not one person of color won an individual Golden Globe for acting in film or television. In total, only four of the 30 film-acting nominees weren’t white. Although there are plenty of actors, independent filmmakers, directors, producers, and playwrights of color who are working tremendously hard, it has proven difficult to gain recognition in a culture dominated by whites. I was disappointed, for example, there was no recognition of Michael B. Jordan for his performance in Fruitvale Station.

It’s a problem that “prestigious” award shows such as the Golden Globes continually consider and privilege white entertainers. I believe there should be a conscious effort aiming to nominate and select more people of color. I’m not advocating for a rigid race requirement, but bodies such as the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (which votes on the Golden Globes) should consider film and television that speak to other identities. They can start by becoming more diverse themselves.

Hollywood must welcome more points of view into cultural mainstream because when minorities are on the screen, rarely are we featured as multidimensional characters whom viewers can cherish and sympathize with.

The messages of white superiority in the media are being internalized by a black girl who’s combing Barbie’s blonde hair; by a black boy who only sees the criminalization or athleticism of black men on the television screen. They’re being internalized by Muslim boys and girls who only see people like them depicted as terrorists; Indian and Asian Americans who are depicted as store clerks, the submissive “oriental,” or kung fu masters.

As it stands, productions with white casts and writers are prized and “universal,” whereas films such as The Best Man Holiday is coined a “race-themed film” by USA Today simply because the main cast was not white. The film had absolutely nothing to do with race or racism.

There’s more to America than white narratives. It’s time Hollywood sees this.

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