The 2016 Awards season is well underway with the Golden Globes behind us and the BAFTAS and the Oscars coming up in the next couple of weeks.
When the academy released the nominations on the 14th January it was the second year running that all of the major acting nominees were white. This brought back backlash on Twitter against the whitewash using the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. Even when you count the director nominations, the only non-white person nominated is Mexican film director Alejandro González Iñárritu for “The Revenant.”
This came as a surprise for most as many critically acclaimed films such as Creed and Straight Outta Compton were left out of the nominations entirely. As well as the outstanding performances by non-white actors like Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation), Michael .B. Jordan (Creed) and Will Smith (Concussion).
Many within the film community have rightly condemned the academy and the way that films are voted for, with a growing number calling for a Boycott of the academy for this year’s ceremony. However, looking at awards season, there are some reasons to feel that the industry and the academy are making social progressive headway.
Not all about race
For example look at Carol (2015), a tale of two women and their increasingly intimate relationship taking place in 1950’s Manhattan. Carol took nominations for acting and best picture at Golden Globes, BAFTAs and Oscars. It was only 25 years ago that LGBT Community of San Francisco were suffering from the AIDS Epidemic and very little was being done to help them. And it was 20 years before that homosexuality was just barely legalised in Britain.
Then you look at the situation now. Gay marriage has been legal since January 2015 and the idea of homosexuality is far more accepted now than it ever has been. For the first time since Classical times, we are not out casting people because of their sexual orientation, but we proudly show their contributions to culture and society and most of all we accept who they are.
Another big film this year, The Danish Girl (2015), tells the tale of Artist Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) preparing to undergo one of the first sex-change operations. The last few years have seen a great increase in trans-recognition in film, with issues surrounding the Trans community being talked about more and being better represented on-screen like in The Dallas Buyers Club and Amazon TV Series Transparent.
Would I prefer if they were played by real transgender people, would I prefer transgender actors getting more high profile work; of course. Would I like the same conditions to apply for LGBT actors? Yes, I would. I think that in culture and in film we have to start somewhere but accepting who they are and talking about and recognising issues related to them is a step in the right direction.
Oscars or nothing
I don’t think the problem is with the Oscars, but with the industry as a whole. Spike Lee put it best when he said “it’s easier for a black guy to be president than a Hollywood Exec“. Idris Elba has also spoken on this issue in relation to the UK. It’s hard for non-whites to get into the industry let alone be in a position of influence in Hollywood.
But should we take the Oscars as seriously as we do? There are so many great actors in many films and TV shows, that are not ever mentioned in the media and don’t win Oscars. But it doesn’t mean that other places don’t recognise them. Birth of a Nation, the slave uprising film has broken records at Sundance and won both audience and Grand Jury awards.
These are the film we should be demanding to watch as an audience. We should be using our power as an audience to pressure content makers. Encourage people to pay more attention to other awards like Sundance or the SAG Awards and the independent spirit awards and celebrate all forms of filmmaking not just the whitewash of Hollywood film culture.
People in the film industry who are not straight, white males have had it tough for a long time. Things are not perfect now, not by a long way, but people are beginning to recognise that, and hopefully #OscarsSoWhite will help. But please let’s not forget how far the industry has come and where we need to go.