What is Hollywood's problem with diversity?

For the second year running the Oscars nominations have been criticised for their four acting categories having exclusively white nominees, sparking more debate over diversity in Hollywood and bringing the return of the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite.

What is Hollywood's problem with diversity?

For the second year running the Oscars nominations have been criticised for their four acting categories having exclusively white nominees, sparking more debate over diversity in Hollywood and bringing the return of the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite.

This follows a year in which there was huge controversy over the idea of casting a black James Bond, the choice to cast a white actress as Tiger Lily in the recent Pan film and a year which ended on more controversy over the choice to cast a black Hermione in the new stage production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

While everyone expected films like The Revenant and The Danish Girl to dominate, it is somewhat surprising to see films like Beasts of No Nation and Straight Outta Compton completely snubbed. Idris Elba who was up for two Golden Globes surely deserved a supporting actor nomination for his terrifying warlord? And if not him why not Samuel L. Jackson for his role in The Hateful Eight? Even Benecio Del Toro in Sicario?

The list goes on, Will Smith, Michael B. Jordan, there is no shortage of fantastic non-white actors who could have been nominated. Moving to the LGBT scene the picture doesn't get an awful lot better. The Danish Girl tells the story of a trans woman who undergoes one of the first sex change operations. However, while Eddie Redmayne did receive a best actor nomination, both this film and Carol were snubbed from best picture. This means that perhaps the most significant category is full of nominations which are exclusively about white, straight people, and with a few exceptions, mostly male dominated. Moreover, the nominations that these films did receive were for straight actors who were playing LGBT parts whereas, despite his many other awards this season, gay director Todd Haynes didn't receive a nomination for Carol.

Perhaps an argument against this is that the actors who were 'snubbed' just weren't as good? This argument might be ok if non-white and LGBT actors had the same opportunities in Hollywood, but this is sadly not the case. This is seen in the paradoxical reactions to casting last year, with audiences less concerned about the white-washing of Native American, Asian and black characters than with the casting of black characters in 'white' roles. More importantly the Oscars is a goal for many actors and directors, with films often being created with this goal in mind. For the last few years Leonardo Di Caprio's career has been filled with the same blockbuster roles in an aim to win this award. As much as many of us would love to see him finally win, this shouldn't be at the cost of other actors.

Why is this important? Because if films like Beasts of No Nation and Straight Outta Compton aren't as successful in awards season as films like The Revenant, this can have an impact on what kind of films studios produce in the future. It can promote already successful, predominantly white and straight films simply because they are 'award-winning'. This gives little opportunity to some very brilliant films. It is also the case for actors like Elba who are equally as talented, if not more so than blockbuster actors like Matt Damon, but just aren't afforded the same opportunities.

The important question is why is this happening? It would be very worrying if voters were deliberately marginalising these films, but what is perhaps more likely, and in some ways more sadly, they are simply overlooking them. With the hype of huge films like The Revenant, it is easy to miss smaller films, with this often happening in the mainstream media, and at the box office too. While something absolutely needs to change in the Oscars, what we can do at home is just as important. If we choose to support films with diversity, then hopefully, eventually, this will have a knock on effect in the industry.


Ellen Orange

Ellen Orange Contributor

I am a 24 year old Marketing Officer from the North East with a passion for arts and writing. I did a BA in English Literature and an MA in Twentieth and Twenty First Century Literature at Durham University, because I love books and reading! I have experience in writing for a variety of student publications, as well as having contributed to Living North, a regional magazine and Culture magazine, a supplement to regional newspaper, The Journal. I have been part of a Young Journalists scheme writing for NewcastleGateshead's Juice Festival, a young people's arts and culture festival, and have since become a Team Juice member. As well as reading and writing, I love theatre, photography and crafts.

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  • Luke Taylor

    On 18 January 2016, 12:02 Luke Taylor Contributor commented:

    This is everything I believe! As an LGBT person myself, I would really appreciate seeing some diversity in films, and I don't just mean sticking a random gay stereotype in a film. I mean diversity of individuality, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, or how popular an actor is. Acting shouldn't just be about looking the part, it's about BEING the part as well.

  • Bhavesh Jadva

    On 18 January 2016, 12:33 Bhavesh Jadva Voice Team commented:

    A perfect summary of the issues here! I was almost humiliated that Straight Outta Compton wasn't nominated for more than the one award for its white screenwriters especially considering it, along with The Danish Girl, are the most currently important films films of the year. Carol was the most likely film to get nominated for Best Picture concerning identity but despite getting the highest recognition elsewhere in the year's awards circuit (tired with The Revenant and Mad Max) and being nominated for 6 other Oscars, isn't in the Best Picture list.

    It harks back to the mess concerning Selma last year where neither David Oyelowo nor Oprah Winfrey for nominated for acting awards nor Ava DuVernay for directing it.

    To be honest, however, I think the films in the running generally deserve their places and that, particularly in the acting categories, there was a lack of competitive performances from actors of colour. Though yes I did think Idris Elba's nomination would be a given, Michael B. Jordan and Will smith's performances don't touch anyone else's. But, I think the recognition Matt Damon's getting is wildly exaggerated.

    At the end of the day though, the fact that, out of twenty acting nominations, not a single one comes from an actor of colour can barely be coincidental...The Revenant's director Alejandro Inarritu seems to be flying the flag as the only nominee in high profile categories.

  • Idriss Assoumanou

    On 20 January 2016, 01:31 Idriss Assoumanou Contributor commented:

    after hearing the nominees, it did seem a little odd to me at first but then i realised this was going to be Leo's year to win an Oscar. and to be fair it looks likes its going to be an easy win for him.

    when i heard about what Idris Elba and spike lee said i instantly realised what was going on and thought to my myself, why wasn't will smith nominated for concussion, that film was just as much as a true story as spotlight was and will has to carry that film by himself with that well performed accent whereas spotlight has a whole ensemble.

    either way the only place we'd get real diversity with awards would be in bollywood.

    idriss elba needs to win a bafta for his performance 10/10

  • Sally Trivett

    On 20 January 2016, 16:41 Sally Trivett Voice Team commented:

    I totally agree with you when considering what studios produce in the future is affected. The whole idea of these award shows is that they are based on meritocracy, however when so few BAME and LGBTQ performers are nominated, it really does raise the question of equality. It's such a shame that these actors and actress' may be missing out due to their race, gender or sexuality and it is something that needs to change.

  • Ellen Orange

    On 24 January 2016, 11:35 Ellen Orange Contributor commented:

    Is this a step forward or too little too late?

  • Jo Nead

    On 24 January 2016, 18:42 Jo Nead Contributor commented:

    I agree with you totally, so many incredible actors aren't getting the credit they deserve. Regarding the link you just commented with, I think it's both a step in the right direction and a little too late. To be quite honest, there is so much in the media now about how much more diverse the world is now, I kind of feel like this should have been done years ago. The Oscar's are so incredibly influential, they could have done a lot of good making this change earlier on. However, I feel it also sends the message that white men only vote for white men, women only vote for women and so on. Technically speaking, they shouldn't have to widen their board for these actors to get the recognition of an Oscar nomination, the people on the committee should be more than capable of voting for them themselves. Great article!

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