Regarding Race: The Other People of Color (Re. The Oscars)

*This is an opinion-editorial piece by Teddy Oh*

Although the 2016 Oscars hit an 8 year low for viewership, chances are, most people heard about the #oscarssowhite controversy or at least Leo’s historic win.  Chris Rock hosted the event, touching on some important points about the lack of diversity in Hollywood, and brought up new questions about other underrepresented ethnicities and what next our next steps should be as we move forward.

Wait, back up…

For those who’ve missed out on the Oscars drama, here’s a rundown of what’s going on:  For the second year in a row, no people of color were nominated for awards in any of the “major categories”, including Best Actor/Actress or Best Supporting Actor/Actress.  In previous years, the Oscars awards ceremony hasn’t had a much better record; from 1975 to 1980 no minority actors were nominated, and overall about 95% of nominations have gone to white actors and actresses.  94% of the Academy’s approximately 6,000 voting members are white, and most are male.

So what does this mean?

This year, in anticipation of another mostly homogeneous Oscars ceremony (and coming off of a similarly lacking Academy Awards presentation), people took to their favorite statement-making platform: Twitter.  The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite trended with tweets from thousands of angry movie-goers as well as prominent celebrities.  Taking it a step further than Twitter, celebrities such as Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee chose to make a statement by boycotting the ceremony.  

But Chris Rock was there…

Comedian Chris Rock, who hosted the ceremony, kicked off the night by highlighting Hollywood’s diversity problem.  His opening statement:

“Man, I counted at least 15 black people on that montage. I’m here at the Academy Awards, otherwise known as the White People’s Choice Awards.  You realize if they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even get this job. So y’all would be watching Neil Patrick Harris right now.”

He went on to explain why he agreed to host the show, in spite of the underrepresentation of black actors this year:

“So, I thought about quitting. I thought about it real hard. But, I realized, they’re gonna have the Oscars anyway. They’re not gonna cancel the Oscars because I quit. You know? And the last thing I need is to lose another job to Kevin Hart, O.K.?”

Funny speech, but get to the point…

While many applauded Chris Rock for keeping focus on the lack of black actors and actresses in this year’s Oscars, others realized there was something missing.  What about all the other ethnicities who weren’t on stage, either?  Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans are all equally, if not more, underrepresented in the film industry.  A recent “Economist” article pointed out a few telling statistics:

  • Blacks or African Americans: 12.6% of the population, 10% of nominations (since 2000)
  • Hispanics:  17.4% of the population, 3% of nominations (since 2000)

  • Asians:  5.4% of the population, 1% of nominations (since 2000)

According to a January “LA Times” article “no Asian actress has won an Oscar in 58 years, and it’s been 54 years since a Latina took home an Academy Award”.  In total, there have only been 20 Hispanic nominations and 4 wins in the categories of Best Actor/Actress and Best Supporting Actor/Actress.  There have been 15 total Asian Americans nominated, with 3 winners (1982 Best Actor Ben Kingsley in Ghandi, 1984 Best Supporting Actor Haing S. Ngor in The Killing Fields, and 1957 Best Supporting Actress Miyoshi Umeki in Sayonara).  Of indigenous descent, there has been one winner out of four nominations: Ben Johnson (Cherokee and Irish) who won Supporting Actor in 1971 for “The Last Picture Show”.  For a full list, see this LA Times article here: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/la-et-mn-oscar-diversity-asian-latino-indigenous-nominees-winners-20160120-story.html

Another underrepresented group includes transgender performers.  The first transgender performer to be nominated (for Best Original Song), Anohni, boycotted the Oscars this year.  

#NotYourMule

While some are understandably upset about these other groups who are underrepresented, but whose struggles get less attention than the plight of black actors and actresses, others have started a new hashtag trend in response.

Some people wish Chris Rock had used his platform to talk about all of the diversity problems in Hollywood, not just representing black actors and actresses.  Others think that their race is #notyourmule, and it’s up to each ethnicity to start their own movement.  What do you think?

Bibliography:

http://fortune.com/2016/02/29/oscars-2016-tv-ratings-low/

http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/19/entertainment/oscars-so-white-academy-feat/

http://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2016/01/film-and-race

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/29/movies/chris-rock-monologue.html

http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/00

http://variety.com/2016/music/news/oscars-anohni-first-transgender-performer-essay-skipping-cermony-1201715197/

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/02/hollywoods-black-and-white-filter/460326/?utm_source=SFFB

http://annenberg.usc.edu/sitecore/shell/Applications/Content%20Manager/~/media/MDSCI/Racial%20Inequality%20in%20Film%202007-2013%20Final.ashx?db=master&la=en&vs=1&ts=20140731T1347226383

http://oscar.go.com/news/winners/oscar-winners-2016-see-the-complete-list