#OscarsSoWhite calls out racial disparity in Hollywood

#OscarsSoWhite calls out racial disparity in Hollywood

Photos of the almost entirely caucasian group of 2016 Academy Award nominees Photo: latimes.com

By Melissa Frontado, Diversity Columnist

As Oscar season approaches, a new hashtag is lighting up the internet, causing national controversy and bringing awareness to the racial disparity in Academy voting. #OscarsSoWhite is social media's response to the lack of diversity in Oscar nominated actors; 2016 will be the second year in a row that there have only been white actors in the top four categories.

Many are using the hashtag to express their opinions on the matter via social media, and it has opened discussion on the systematic racism that lives in our media.

The #OscarsSoWhite hashtag was created by an editor at BroadwayBlack.com in a tweet, and has since been used by minorities to highlight the lack of representation not only in the award show, but in film in general. The movement is part of a new millennial form of protest called 'hashtag activism,'a strategy that relies on retweets and Twitter trending to educate a broad audience base.

While hashtag activism is a good way to educate others and spark social outcry, it doesn't necessarily offer any answers. The hashtag did, however, pick up momentum and win the attention of the Academy and several celebrities who vow to protest the award show by not attending, including Spike Lee and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith.

Pinkett Smith released a video on Martin Luther King Jr. Day which said, 'I can't help but ask the question: is it time that people of color recognize how much power, influence, that we have amassed ' that we no longer need to ask to be invited anywhere? I ask the question: have we now come to a new time and place where we recognize that we can no longer beg for the love, acknowledgement or respect of any group? That maybe it's time that we recognize that if we love, and respect and acknowledge ourselves in the way in which we are asking others to do, that is the place of true power. I'm simply asking a question.'

Even President Obama had something to say on the issue.

'[Diversity] makes for better entertainment. It makes everybody feel part of one American family. So I think, as a whole, the industry should do what every other industry should do ' which is to look for talent, provide opportunity to everybody," Obama said in an interview with ABC7's David Ono. "And I think the Oscar debate is really just an expression of this broader issue. Are we making sure that everybody is getting a fair shot?'

History shows that minority actors definitely aren't. In the 87 years that the Oscars have been in existence, only 32 black actors and actresses have won an award. A majority of all film and TV follows a white male protagonist, with minority sidekicks, who are a combination of stereotypes and bad writing. Characters like the promiscuous Latina woman, the gangster black man, and the stick-in-the-mud genius Asian student can be found in nearly every show on TV, whether it be a sitcom or a crime drama. As a minority audience member, I can tell you how damaging this is. It's crucial to see minority characters in lead roles who are actual, dynamic people, and not just two-dimensional cliches on film.

Many have criticized the hashtag, claiming that the Academy Awards have nothing to do with race. But voter bias has proven to be very real; several critically-acclaimed films starring a black cast and black actors have been excluded from this year's running, including Idris Elba,"Beasts of No Nation", the cast of "Straight Outta Compton", Samuel L. Jackson,"The Hateful Eight", and Will Smith, "Concussion."

The claim that racial bias doesn't exist in the awards show implies that white actors and actresses tend be more talented than actors of color, which is incredibly racist and false. Voter bias is a direct result of people not being exposed to diversity in film, bringing us back to the issue of a racial hierarchy in film as a whole. This kind of bias stems from ignorance and can't be overcome unless we see a change in who is on our screens, and how they are depicted.

Whether we watch the Oscars or not, as Christians, this is an issue we should care about. We are called to be a church of all nations, and those nations should be represented in an impactful, mainstream way. Being supportive of people of every races is part of the love we are meant to share with the world.

Fighting racism, no matter how it is presented, is part of the moral and ethical code that we are called to uphold. We must identify it and push for change even when it is inconvenient or uncomfortable, and especially when it is being passed off as art.

Correction: The original photo caption described the Academy Award nominees as being entirely caucasian. This has been amended; Alejandro González Iñárritu, third from the left on the bottom row, is hispanic.

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