Of course there is a massive elephant in the room. It’s been sitting there from the first moments commercial cinema first flickered as an idea in someone’s mind and has continued in practically every major movie since then.
Even at the awards ceremonies, organised to slap the industry on its back, this gigantic, overweight elephant sits. Very few people have had the guts or gall to say anything. Until now. “Why are the Oscars so…white?” people are now asking.
April Reign, a journalist in New York, was watching the Oscar nominations announcement on TV with her family. She was struck by the lack of ethnic diversity among those whose names were called. She went straight to Twitter and voiced her disapproval, using the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. It caught fire instantly.
What Reign didn’t and could not have known, was that the hashtag would resurface the following year when, again, not a single person of colour was named among the acting nominees. The difference this time around was that the outrage had spread outside social media. In fact #OscarsSoWhite was trending everywhere.
The next step was to create a 10-point manifesto for change. These are as follows:
- Introduce the DuVernay test
Films should be judged according to the criteria devised by New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis, with the blessing of Selma director Ava DuVernay.
- Reach out to screenwriters from marginalised communities
Rather than simply waiting for progress to filter through, Hollywood needs to proactively hunt for unsung talent to bring broader perspectives to the screen.
- Put people of colour on both sides of the camera
Diverse casts with fully developed storylines surrounding characters of colour are crucial, but people from marginalised communities must also be behind the camera for real change to happen. Directors and crew all bring a frame of reference – holistic inclusion would be a profound shift.
- Get Hollywood’s major players to speak out
Support of household names such as Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee is essential in securing visibility. Stars should seek to emulate Marlon Brando, who used his 1973 Oscar win for The Godfather to highlight the misrepresentation of Native Americans on TV and in film – and, as well as their wider abuse in the US.
- Diversify Academy membership
As announced by president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the Oscars board is proposing to double the number of women and diverse members of the Academy by 2020 through a series of policy changes. But more must be done; the pressure won’t stop until it is.
- Be conscious about the cinemas you frequent
Not only should we be mindful of which films benefit, but which cinemas, too. Seek out smaller, independent cinemas that may be showing films one might not see in a huge multiplex.
- Amend the Academy’s voting procedures
Currently, Academy members are not required to view a performance or film before they vote. But how can you know if one performance is better than another if you’re not watching the films? A system should be introduced to require members to indicate they had seen the films before they cast their votes.
- Challenge yourself as a viewer
People should be mindful when they go to cinema – seek out films that represent a different perspective to your own.
- Support film festivals
The Toronto black film festival, Tribeca film festival and Sundance are all festivals where films from marginalised communities get a platform. Next year’s Oscars are set, at this stage at least, to be dominated by The Birth of a Nation, about Nat Turner’s slave liberation movement in 1831. After premiering at Sundance, Fox bought the film for $17.5m, a festival record.
- Don’t watch the Oscars
Don’t boycott – counterprogramme. “Boycott” is the word that the media uses because it’s simplistic. But it’s not a word that I, Pinkett-Smith or Lee or anyone else who is not attending the awards is actually using. So, use the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag and watch the film The Wood on Sunday night instead. Or do whatever you like; just don’t watch the Oscars.