The Oscar nominations announced Thursday morning included not a single person of color in any of the four acting categories. Of all 35 people nominated for acting, writing or directing awards, only Mexican film director Alejandro González Iñárritu is non-white. That's lamentable.
Not because Ava DuVernay, who is black, should necessarily have been nominated for directing "Selma" (which did get nominated for best picture) or because David Oyelowo — who played Martin Luther King in that movie — should have gotten a nod for lead actor. How the 5,765 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominate and vote is up to them (and will always be fodder for second-guessing, tea-leaf reading, derision and occasionally praise.)
The issue is: Why aren't there more directors and actors and writers and other entertainment industry professionals who are minorities — and women, for that matter — contributing to the universe of work from which academy members choose?
People have been asking this question for a long time — a really long time. We've bemoaned the lack of diversity in Hollywood many times in the past. Some years it looks like things are changing. Last year, for instance, African Americans were nominated in the director, supporting actress and adapted screenplay categories, and they won two out of three. The best picture Oscar went to "12 Years a Slave," the movie which spawned all three nominations. And the directing Oscar went to the Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron for "Gravity." Two years before that, actress Octavia Spencer was nominated for supporting actress and Viola Davis was nominated for lead actress. Both are African American. Spencer won.
Unfortunately, those are the exceptions. Yes, the academy is striving to diversify; it has invited more professionals of color to join its own overwhelmingly white ranks. (A 2012 study by The Times found that Oscar voters were nearly 94% white and 77% male.) In fact, entertainment executive Cheryl Boone Isaacs is currently the first black person to serve as president of the academy.
But USC associate professor Stacy L. Smith, the director of the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative at the Annenberg School, has released several studies of minorities and women in film roles, concluding that "inclusivity and diversity are not valued by Hollywood decision makers." Of all the directors of the 100 top films of 2013, only five were black. None were black women. Latinos were particularly underrepresented in film; although they are more than 16% of the population, they accounted for only 4.9% of speaking roles in the top-grossing films of 2013.
There were plenty of commendable performances and films that got left out this year. That is always the case. But it is particularly sad that people of color are at an Oscar disadvantage in part because they're not working in enough films.