Last year, the hashtag #OscarSoWhite blew up the Twittersphere in the weeks preceding the 87th Academy Awards as fans decried the total lack of diversity in the nominations for the big-ticket categories. The 2015 ceremony was of note, in part, because the film Selma was such a natural awards vehicle for its star, David Oyelowo, and its director Ava Duverney. Neither was nominated. In fact, in all four acting categories, every nominee was white. In the directing category, every nominee was male.
The 2016 Oscar noms were announced last week, and the Academy's institutional bias evidently hasn't changed. Of the 20 available slots in the acting categories, not a single performer of color was nominated. All five directors nominated for top honors are men again too, and only Alejandro G. Inarritu, who is Mexican, and who won last year for Birdman, is member of a minority.
It's not like there weren't options: Both Michael B. Jordan (for Creed) and Will Smith (for Concussion) may be considered bona fide snubs, given that Bryan Cranston, who was nominated for Trumbo, doesn't belong on the Best Actor list. Idris Elba was notably absent from the supporting actor category for his work in Beasts of No Nation; he could've replaced Mark Rylance (who turned in an excellent, quiet performance in Bridge of Spies) and no one would have batted an eyelash.
Other nominations seemed to compound the issue. The film Straight Outta Compton, in my view, wasn't a Best Picture contender. But it featured a cast of young, black, relatively unknown performers who might have at least deserved a look. The film's director, F. Gary Gray (who's next project is Furious 8, to give you an idea) is black, and though a directing nom would've been a stretch, the Academy chose to nominate the writing team — a trio of Caucasians — for the best original screenplay honors as the film's only nod. Creed, a film with a black star and an exciting young black director, received only one nomination as well: a best supporting actor nom for its white co-star Sylvester Stallone. What's going on?
The bigger picture, many say, is that diversity in the Academy itself is lacking — it's an honor society, for better or worse, chiefly composed of silver-haired white dudes. And though the Academy is working to expand its ranks, it would be wiser to create circumstances where women and minorities can succeed in filmmaking than to worry exclusively about nominations.
Another theory says that the more nominations women and minorities get, the greater the likelihood that women and minorities will continue working in an industry that, for years, has seemed to cast them aside.
For the 2016 ceremony that takes place on Feb. 28, #OscarSoWhite is here to stay. And you can expect host Chris Rock to make a few pointed jokes at the Academy's expense. In a recent tweet, he called the Oscars the "white BET Awards." — Sam Allard