Lack of diverse Oscar nominees is symptomatic of Hollywood’s failure to represent minorities, women

Charles Liu

For the second year in a row, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated 20 white actors for all the acting Oscars. Even esteemed movies featuring people of color that received nominations, such as “Straight Outta Compton” and “Creed,” only did so for white cast and crew members. African-American director Spike Lee and African-American actress Jada Pinkett Smith will boycott the ceremony.

The Academy’s image has suffered a blow — but in truth, the organization did not have a diverse field to choose nominees from in the first place.  

In 2015, the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA conducted a study which revealed there are more than two white film leads for every minority lead, two white directors for every minority director and three white writers for every minority writer. Women only make up one-eighth of film directors and one-fourth of the writers in the film industry.

Radio-television-film associate professor Mary Beltrán, who specializes in race and gender studies, partially attributed the lack of diversity in Hollywood to white-centric tastes in America.

“It doesn’t mean everyone is experiencing racism every minute they don’t fit into [the white] category, but we don’t really question that most movies are about white people,” Beltrán said. “We have come to take it for granted, and we go pay to watch those movies.”

Radio-television-film professor Tom Schatz said that it is tough for minorities and women to break into the film business because it is dominated by white men.

“I’ve spent a lot of time with people in the industry, and it’s a boys’ club,” Schatz said. “[People in the industry] like people with similar backgrounds, similar sensibilities.”

Studios’ business practices are also responsible for the diversity issue. Filmmaking is an expensive endeavor, so the studios attempt to minimize the risk involved. Among other tactics such as testing movies on focus groups and churning out sequels, studios tend to look toward racial demographics in the United States to determine who their films should appeal to, which leads to the underrepresentation of certain groups.

Beltrán recounted an interview she had with Asian-American director Justin Lin, famous for directing three “The Fast and the Furious” films, in which Lin said the industry felt the Asian population was too small to warrant making films for.

“It’s really kind of sad [the studios don’t feel they] need to tell all these stories, to think about doing it for all the communities in the U.S.,” she said.

Beltrán noted that studios believe white stars are an important selling point, and often hesitate to cast minority leads as a result.

Schatz argued film schools should help remedy the problem by cultivating the talent of minority and female students in production classes. He and other faculty members of UT’s film department are currently striving to diversify their student body.

On the Hollywood side of things, Beltrán suggested studios should take more chances on films and actors of color, as the fear that minorities and females won’t attract audiences is unwarranted. She pointed to Universal’s “The Fast and the Furious” as a lucrative series that defies executives’ expectations that the white male hero is what sells.

Similarly, last year’s most commercially successful movie, Lucasfilm’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” starred a white female, a black male and Hispanic male.

While it’s tempting to think bashing the Oscars is an effective way to change Hollywood, Schatz warned that simply making a ruckus over the nominee list and boycotting can cause people to lose sight of the larger problems at hand.

“[Lee and Pinkett Smith] ought to be using the Oscars to address the deeper issues,” he said. “Hopefully, the roiling controversy this year will keep us thinking beyond Oscar night.”