'And the Winner Is White!'

By Albert Lin


Oscar’s lack of diversity is not just a problem this year. As this animation by Norwegian artist Brd Edlund shows, no nonwhite group has made much of a dent in any of the Academy’s major awards, dating back to 1929.

Diversity Among Winners at the Oscars from Bard Edlund on Vimeo.

The President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first Black person to hold the position, chose to use her speech midway through Sunday’s 87th Academy Awards to address freedom of expression rather than diversity.

After the nominations were announced in January, she did tell The Associated Press: “In the last two years, we’ve made greater strides than we ever have in the past toward becoming a more diverse and inclusive organization through admitting new members and more inclusive classes of members. And, personally, I would love to see and look forward to see a greater cultural diversity among all our nominees in all of our categories.”

The makeup of the Academy’s members is not made public, but a 2013 study by the Los Angeles Times revealed that 93 percent are white and 76 percent are male, with Blacks making up about 2 percent and Latinos even less (the latter based on a 2012 study).

Moreover, the Board of Governors of the Academy51 people strongappears to be all white except for Isaacs. And the 16 people listed under Administration also all appear to be white.

The Los Angeles chapter of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network had been planning to protest the ceremony, but it cancelled the demonstration at the behest of Selma director Ava DuVernay. Instead, the organization will try to pursue “a direct dialogue” with Isaacs and Academy CEO Dawn Hudson.

‘Two Mexicans in a Row’

The show did end on a high note for diversity, as Mexican director Alejandro Gonzlez Irritu took home Best Director and his film, Birdman, was awarded Best Picture. But even in his acceptance speech, Irritu took a shot at the Academy: “Maybe next year the government will inflict immigration restrictions,” he said, referencing last year’s Best Director, Alfonso Cuarn. “Two Mexicans in a row. That’s suspicious, I guess.”

He went on to make statements about his homeland and about immigration. “I want to dedicate this award for my fellow Mexicans, the ones who live in Mexico. I pray that we can find and build the government that we deserve,” Irritu said. “And the ones that live in this country, who are part of the latest generation of immigrants, I just pray that they can be treated with the same dignity and respect of the ones who came before and [built] this incredible immigrant nation.”

The announcement of Best Picture, however, was also not without controversy, as actor Sean Penn said in revealing the winner: “Who gave this son of a bitch his green card Birdman.”

Afterward, Irritu excused Penn’s joke. The two have known each other since working together on the 2003 film 21 Grams. “I found it hilarious,” Irritu said after the ceremony. “Sean and I have that kind of brutal [relationship] where only true friendship can survive.”

There were no hard feelings as the two posed for pictures backstage. “I make on him a lot of very tough jokes that I will not tell you,” Irritu said.

Irritu’s comments on a highly charged issue bookended those of Best Supporting Actress winner Patricia Arquette, who made an impassioned plea for women’s rights while accepting the night’s second award. “To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once for all. And equal rights for women in the United States of America.”

Backstage, Arquette elaborated: “People think we have equal rights. We won’t until we pass an equal rights amendment. It is time for women. Equal means equal. The truth is the older women get the less money they make.”

A Recurring Theme From the top of the show, host Neil Patrick Harris called attention to the all-white acting nominees, saying, “Tonight we celebrate Hollywood’s best and whitestsorry, brightest.” Later, during a segment with David Oyelowo, Harris joked about the audience’s ovation for him: “Oh, sure, now you like him.” Oyelowo, of course, was famously snubbed for his portrayal of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma. But Harris was criticized for having the Black actor take a shot at a remake of Annie starring Black actors Jamie Foxx and Quvenzhan Wallis, an awkward moment considering the lack of roles for Blacks in Hollywood to begin with and the lack of Black nominees on the night. Harris was also called out for a bit in which he asked Black actress Octavia Spencer to keep an eye on a briefcase containing his Oscar picks. He warned her that she would not be able to take any bathrooms breaks or have any snacks, his tone drawing the ire of some. Janet Mock, a Black transgender-rights activist who hosts a show on MSNBC, tweeted:

Others pointed out that the Academy may have gone too far in trying to compensate for the nomination snubs:

The highlight for Black audiences was Common’s and John Legend’s performance of Best Original Song winner “Glory” from Selma, which brought some to tears.

In their acceptance speech, Common did not make comments similar to the ones he made at the Golden Globes, with Legend instead taking the lead this time:

We say that Selma is now, because the struggle for justice is right now. We know that the Voting Rights Act that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised now in this country today. Right now the struggle for freedom and justice is real. We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more Black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850.

“When people are marching with our song, we want to tell you we are with you, we see you, we love you, and march on. God bless you.”

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