For a second year in a row, not one person of color was nominated for an Oscar in any of the four acting categories. Beyond that, the only signs of diversity in the writing and directing categories were the nominations for Mexican film director Alejandro G. Inarritu for “The Revenant” and Filipino screenwriter Ronnie del Carmen, who is one of several writers nominated for “Inside Out.” Last year, we said this lack of diversity was lamentable. This year it’s just as appalling, considering how many well-respected films featuring non-white actors were eligible.
The lack of recognition for minority artists mirrors the lack of diversity in both the Academy membership and the film business in general. Although the Academy, now overseen by its first black president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, has started to broaden its voting membership, it will take a while before it’s no longer overwhelmingly white and male. Not that black or Latino or Asian members will reflexively support any movie directed by or starring people who look like them. But a more diverse group brings more viewpoints and sensibilities to bear when voting.
The bigger, more complicated problem is that the executives and professionals who finance movies and distribute them are mostly white and hesitant to risk millions of dollars on unfamiliar talent, despite the strong performance of such films as “Straight Outta Compton” and “Creed,” both of which had black directors and stars. And yet the studios’ TV divisions are scoring hits with a far more diverse lineup of talent, and winning acclaim for it as well; witness last year’s Emmy nominations, which included multiple nods for actors and actresses of color.
The Oscar whiteout may eventually be overcome by a new and more diverse generation of aspiring filmmakers, writers, and actors, who can use digital technology and the Internet to create movies and attract an audience without relying on the studios. The movie-going public, which is increasingly diverse, is already telling the entertainment industry that it’s ready for a change. Just ask the folks who made “Straight Outta Compton” for $28 million and, so far, have grossed more than $200 million.