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Brown: Oscar nominations show nature of film industry

BY MARCUS BROWN | JANUARY 21, 2015 5:00 AM

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The nominees for the 2015 Oscars have sparked outrage among many, citing a lack of diversity among the acting nominees specifically. All 20 of the acting nominees were white, prompting concern over the selection process. The Academy Awards, similar to many institutions, has become well acquainted with the question of whether it is truly accommodating of diversity.

Arguably the match that lit the fire was the passing over of the movie Selma, the recently released biopic about Martin Luther King Jr., in respect to female director Ava DuVernay and black actor David Oyelowo, who played Martin Luther King Jr. One should note the musician and actor in the film Common did receive a nomination for his song used in the film.

The timing of such a decision could have been better given the precarious race relations in the country because of the publicity of recent cases of police brutality and the proximity to the national holiday celebrating the achievements of King. However, timing really should not be a factor in the decision making process. Closer scrutiny of the Oscar nominations and Hollywood in general reveals an underlying issue at a time in which the public is primed for dismay.

It has become apparent that within the motion-picture industry there is a noticeable deficiency in its ability to recognize significant achievement by minorities, but the problem extends far deeper than an awards show. What requires closer examination is the context in which these films are analyzed and quantified rather than an evaluation of their individual artistic merit.

Films are not created in a vacuum and left to be judged based solely on their quality. When looking at an institution such as the Academy Awards, one must take into account the fluctuations in society at the time of their selection and the history that informs them.

Making the argument that Hollywood still operates under an antiquated model that caters to a white, male majority is easy to do. A quick Google search will reveal statistics that support the idea that the overwhelming majority of influence in Hollywood is held by old white men who in turn support other white men. Since 1927, there have only been 24 Oscars given to people of color for acting.

However, what many people forget is that motion-picture industry is just that … an industry. On the surface, findings such as these imply a conscious and systematic discrimination, but in reality, it is the byproduct of an even larger motivating factor: money. It is common knowledge that institutional racism played a large role in the denial of black talent years ago, but what explains a similar denial in modern times with the absence of such blatant, legalized discriminations such as segregation?

I would argue that the perceived discriminations are the byproducts of an industry that, while more accepting of diversity, still lacks adequate incentive for greater inclusion. Films with predominantly white casts gross more on average than films with predominantly black casts and gross more in oversea markets as well. When the immediate financial benefits for supporting diversity cannot be found, it makes a genuine support for diversity harder to accommodate.

Nobody is saying Selma was a bad movie, but until films with diverse casts and production begin to consistently gross at the level of Marvel’s The Avengers, lack of recognition will continue to be a problem.


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