There’s been a lot of issue taken with the fact that the immensely talented Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo being snubbed by the Academy Awards for their work on Selma, the biopic focused on Martin Luther King, Jr. in the three months surrounding the famous march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.
More alarming, and worthy of more scrutiny, however, is that fact that there were precious few people of color in serious contention for nomination this year. Vulture, who did an excellent job chronicling Oscar nomination futures beginning in September 2014, mentioned only two other potential nominees of color: Alejandro González Iñárritu for Best Director for Birdman and Miyavi for Best Supporting Actor in Unbroken. Iñárritu was nominated; Miyavi was not.
Four. Four non-white names in serious contention for the highest awards given in Hollywood. And one actual nomination.
Here are some more fun statistics for you:
In the last ten years, nine films centered on the stories of people of color were nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, out of a possible 70.
Only three black directors have ever been nominated for Best Director.
14 black actors, 5 Latin-American actors, and 3 Asian actors have won acting awards, out of a possible 344.
And in 2014, with the exception of Ride Along, just two of the 25 top-grossing films featured a person of color as a director, screenwriter, or actor in a top-billing role. (That would be Zoe Saldaña in Guardians of the Galaxy and Jamie Foxx in The Amazing Spiderman 2.)
These damning statistics are just an illustration of something we take for granted. here remains a significant dearth of opportunity for people of color in the entertainment industry.
Moreover, at a time when storytelling has never offered so much opportunity for experimentation, black cinema has homogenized, with slavery narratives, the Civil Rights era, Jim Crow, and contemporary comedies representing virtually every black movie released in 2013. As for other depictions of people of color, well, when was the last time you saw an Asian actor cast as the lead in a romantic comedy?
It’s right and even necessary to get angry on behalf of Selma. What’s more important, however, is to remember that any anger over the snubs must be rooted in a deeper set of frustrations: Hollywood’s serious diversity issues.
What happened is more than just a failure to nominate the exceptional work of a few artists. It’s a failure to create a playing field where there are more than just a few people of color in the conversation. It’s a failure to tell stories that represent the diverse world we live in, not just the world we are comfortable or familiar with,
Until Hollywood begins addressing these trends, we may still have the occasional critically acclaimed and awards-laden film about people of color, but we won’t see true diversity. That won’t happen until we have more equanimity throughout the industry writ large.