Opinion: The ‘whitest Oscars in decades’ shows biases in Hollywood

Last week, the Oscar nominations were announced for the 87th annual Academy Awards. There were many surprises, but a surprise that had me scratching my head (other than a snub for “The Lego Movie” in Best Animated Feature) was that “Selma,” the story of Dr. Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement, was almost shut out completely.

I say almost because it did receive two nominations, one for Best Original Song and one for Best Picture. In the eyes of the Academy, this seems like enough, but for everyone else it is troubling. Not only were director Ava DuVernay, actor David Oyelowo and the rest of the cast shut out of all categories, but also all four of the academy’s acting categories consisted of all white actors.

To be fair, all the actors in these categories did give noteworthy performances, but what is apparent is that Hollywood missed out on something this year, making this the “whitest Oscars” in decades.

It’s not only in the awards that this is brought into conversation. This past year, director Ridley Scott faced controversy for his new biblical epic “Exodus: Gods and Kings” for casting the lead roles as white actors when Egyptian actors would have been more fitting.

Scott responded to the backlash by saying, “Say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such. I’m just not going to get it financed.” He did, however, have no issue casting black actors in slave roles. While there is a level of truth to his comments of studio finance, that still doesn’t make it right.

I bring up Scott’s comment not to bash him but to paint a picture of how studio executives make daily decisions. They feel that Christian Bale is the safer financial choice over an actor of color that actually fits the historical context. Here is where the issue lies, the hesitation to honor and celebrate diversity in the industry.

This is a tough subject to tackle. I am someone who is constantly in the loop when it comes to film and television news, so I see both sides of the coin every single week. For every “white washing” story we hear about, there comes one in which “Annie” is re-cast as a little girl of color, or Johnny Storm (of Marvel’s “Fantastic Four”) is cast as an African-American actor instead of a white male like he was in the comics. So there is clearly a level of open-minded thinking when casting takes place, but is there enough?

I look around my room at the posters I own. I see “Argo,” “The Departed,” “Fight Club,” “Inception,” “The Fighter,” even “The Avengers.” The one thing they all have in common is that I am staring at all white faces. I look around at all of these posters and think, “where is the color, where is the diversity, where is the change?”

In a study from UCLA, examiners noticed when looking at the racial makeup of nearly 1,200 movies and TV shows from 2011-2012 that minorities are underrepresented compared to real-life U.S. demographics. Think about your favorite TV shows and what you choose to watch on Netflix. “Friends”? “How I Met Your Mother”? “Seinfeld”?

The few actors in the minorities who do get put on television are really only there to have their race be the central issue of the episode’s topic or the joke. Just look at “The Office” and how almost every interaction between Michael Scott and Stanley turns out. I’m, of course, speaking generally about this, but it happens all too often.

Comedian Chris Rock wrote an essay last year dealing with this very topic, stating, “It’s a white industry. Just as the NBA is a black industry. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. It just is.” No matter what way you slice it, Rock is correct. Even when there is a minority in a huge ensemble cast, they still end up being the minority.

Even in this week’s box office chart for films in theaters, two out of the top 10 star someone other than a white actor. This is troubling for people in the minority to find roles and executive producer positions in Hollywood because it is pre-dominantly white.

As filmgoers and TV watchers, it seems like this issue is out of our reach. We are not the studio heads, so we can’t directly mix around who gets to be apart of our entertainment. But even in Hollywood, the idea of supply and demand is alive and well. Show the executives with your dollars the types of films and who you’d like to see in them.

Unfortunately, Chris Rock’s movie, “Top Five,” did not set the box office on fire, but anytime Denzel Washington stars in the film, people come out to support it.

Unfortunately, deciding who becomes the next big studio head isn’t determined by an election. Show your support to those trying to break in and who deserve to be among our current artists, and honor those who make entertainment that is worth your time and money by offering up your time and money.