This week has marked excitement in Hollywood as everyone got ready for the release of the official list of nominations and subsequent dissection of the Oscar nods; everyone wanted to know who was in, who was out and who got snubbed. It was a tough Oscar field to choose from this year, with a large number of excellent films on deck for consideration, and inevitably, some lost out while others, like Lincoln, became leaders of the pack. Members of the Academy didn’t have an easy job when it came to deciding which films to include in the contention for one of the most prestigious awards in film.
One thing stood out this year, as it does every year: the significant lack of recognition for minority directors.
Ang Lee was the only nonwhite director nominated in the Best Director category, and no women at all were on the list; notably, Kathryn Bigelow, who would have been eligible with Zero Dark Thirty, was the first woman to win an Oscar in this category, in 2008. It took the Academy 80 years to recognize a woman’s contributions to the field and it’s apparently reluctant to do so again. Ang Lee’s been nominated — and honored — before, in 2005, with Brokeback Mountain, making him the first nonwhite recipient of the Best Director Oscar, and we’ll see if he takes it again with Life of Pi.
Women were moderately better represented among the producers on the Best Picture nominees: Kathleen Kennedy, Pilar Savone, Donna Gigliotti, Stacey Sher, Debra Hayward, Megan Ellison and Kathryn Bigelow showed up here for their contributions on films like Silver Linings Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty. But the list was heavily dominated, overall, by men, and not just men, but white men.
Is Hollywood really teeming with white male directors and producers, to the point that almost no nonwhite producers and filmmakers can be found, let alone women? Or is there some bias in the Academy’s selection process? It’s actually a bit of a mixture of both, which highlights the way sexism operates in society.
Getting ahead in Hollywood is substantially easier if you’re a white man; more doors tend to open to you, and more opportunities are created for you. Many white males in the Hollywood establishment benefit directly from racism and sexism and aren’t aware of it, though some certainly take note and a smaller number even try to fight it. Because of the slimmer chances of developing a career if you’re a member of a minority group, it means the Academy has fewer projects written, directed and produced by minorities to choose from, and unconscious biases also affect nomination decisions, confounding with the lack of projects to choose from to create suspiciously white and male lists.
To change the racial and gender makeup of nomination lists, the Academy would need to go out of its way to identify eligible projects by minorities and incorporate them into the consideration process. In any confrontation of gender and race inequality, conversations about “reverse racism” tend to come up when people talk about promoting people from minority backgrounds, as though people are suggesting that people with inferior experience and qualifications should be chosen over white men for the “diversity quotient.” (Quotas are another thing that tend to get bandied about.) Proposals to level the playing field, though, aren’t about choosing minorities over members of the majority — they’re about giving minorities an equal shot in a system with odds stacked against them.
Minority projects tend to be underpromoted, underfunded and underrecognized. It’s time to change that.
It shouldn’t be remarkable to see nonwhite people and people of color among the Oscar nods, any more than it should be to see women. In 2013, we should be long past this.
Photo credit: Louise Haywood-Schiefer