Do the Oscars really want diversity, or just to tick boxes?


By Abigail Gledhill, 4th year Politics and International Relations

As part of our Black History Month coverage, we are taking a look at the Oscars controversies and contributions to black filmmakers' recognition.

It’s 2019, and we’re still calling for greater inclusion and diversity. Is it hard for award shows to fathom that black artists have talent too and may even have more than some of their award-credited peers? Hollywood’s continuous white-washing serves to further alienate both talented individuals and viewers alike.

Hollywood is attempting to placate us, to silence our calls of #OscarsSoWhite. For some it works; for most, it doesn’t. We see straight through this façade. 2019 saw the Oscars hold their 91st annual ceremony but saw the same number of women nominated as in 2000 in the top six categories, and only saw the number of people from minority ethnic groups increase by three.

Someone who epitomises this problem is Tyler Perry. He is a prime example of how Hollywood is overlooking some of the greatest contributors to entertainment and African-American culture.

We’re not interested in bureaucrats ticking boxes, ensuring that all their ‘tokens’ are in place, we are calling for true recognition

As I write this, I wonder how many of you have heard about Tyler Perry. Perry is an African-American male, who is quite frankly a force to be reckoned with in the entertainment industry, his talent and skills as both producer and actor are very distinct. He has a clear vision, with a devoted audience.

Perry onset of Boo! A Madea Halloween (2016) | IMDb / Eli Joshua

He has produced over 40 films and has worked with some of the biggest African-American actors and actresses. His extensive repertoire has seen him win numerous awards from the likes of BET (Black Entertainment Television) to the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People). However, he has never been nominated for, let alone won an Academy Award or a Golden Globe.

How can one man have such a vast film collection and yet never be recognised by the Academy in any capacity for any of his films. One may argue 'Well maybe they’re just not that good?', but if they were lacking in quality or not money makers, he wouldn’t have been able to produce film after film. Nor would he have been able to spend $250 million in building his new film production studio. A studio that is larger than the Disney studios, Warner Brothers and Paramount. A studio that sits on 330 acres of land, the equivalent of 15 football pitches.

Tired of waiting for Hollywood to acknowledge him, Perry has taken matters into his own hands. At the June 2019 BET Awards, his speech upon receiving the Ultimate Icon Award stated, 'While everybody else is fighting for a seat at the table, talking about "#OscarsSoWhite, #OscarsSoWhite," I said, "Y'all go ahead and do that. While you're fighting for a seat at the table, I'll be down in Atlanta building my own."'

Perry is not the only one to be ignored by such institutions. Since 1983, Spike Lee has made 35 films and yet only won his first Academy Award in 2019. In 2018, Dee Rees, the director and co-writer of Mudbound (2018) became the second African-American woman to ever be nominated for a screenplay award in almost a century of the Academy’s history.

"Y'all go ahead and do that. While you're fighting for a seat at the table, I'll be down in Atlanta building my own."

Even Black Panther (2018), in all of its groundbreaking success was overlooked by the academy for the top awards. Whilst still winning 3, some were left wondering why it wasn’t featuring amongst the selection of the year’s best given its enormous success. These artists and creators have proven their worth time and time again, to no avail.

Black Panther is renowned for its majority-black cast | IMDb / Albert L. Ortega

When we call for more diversity, for organisers to try and placate us by having more women or people from ethnic minority groups nominated for awards is insulting. They have completely misunderstood what the movement stands for.

We’re not interested in bureaucrats ticking boxes, ensuring that all their ‘tokens’ are in place, we are calling for true recognition. We want these individuals to be recognised because of their skill and talent and not because of their gender or race, the two things that have stopped them being looked at in the first place. We want these people to win.

The system is broken and until we start seeing real change, people like me will never stop calling #OscarsSoWhite.

Featured: IMDb / Jeff Kravitz

Are recent attempts by awarding bodies sincere attempts to diversify, or placifications of the masses?