#OscarsSoWhite: when the black movement creeps into Hollywood

The Academy Awards will be held on the 28th of February. We take a look at #OscarsSoWhite, the hashtag that has sparked a discussion on discrimination in the media that goes beyond the glitz of Hollywood.

#OscarsSoWhite is a hashtag that aims to focus public attention on the role and talents of people of colour in the entertainment business. April Reign, Managing Editor of BroadwayBlack and Editor of NuTribeMagazine, launched the hashtag on the 15th of January last year in response to the lack of diversity among the 2015 Oscars nominations. The Academy vowed to take action, but people of colour remain drastically underrepresented this year too – a fact brought into focus by the official photo of the candidates, crammed with white faces, taken at the Oscars Nominees Luncheon on the 8th of February. The hashtag has now gone viral, reaching over two million accounts and causing a huge public debate.

Celebrities speak out

Many celebrities have spoken publicly about the issue of civil rights in Hollywood, among them Snoop Dogg, Rooney Mara and George Miller. Chris Rock, who will be presenting the Awards ceremony this year, rewrote his entire monologue to better address the situation. Sylvester Stallone, nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Creed, threatened to boycott the Oscars as an act of respect towards co-star Michael B. Jordan and director Ryan Coggler, both black. Will Smith and Spike Lee will not attend the ceremony, and actor Idris Elba addressed the British Parliament about the issue with a heartfelt speech.


The outrage of Oscar winners

Hattie McDaniel was the first black person to ever be recognised with an Academy Award. She won Best Supporting Actress for her role in 1939’s Gone with the Wind. While a total of 2,947 statuettes have been awarded since the Oscars were created in 1929, only 33 (a little over 1%) have been awarded to people of colour. Halle Berry said it’s “heartbreaking” that she remains the only black woman to have ever won the award for Best Actress, while Lupita Nyong’o, who won the 2014 Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in 12 Years A Slave, released a statement saying, “the Awards should not dictate the terms of art in our society. I stand with my peers who are calling for change in expanding the stories that are told and recognition of the people who tell them”.


onstage during the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre on March 2, 2014 in Hollywood, California.
Lupita Nyong’o wins the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2014 © Kevin Winter/Getty Images

The Academy responds

Over 90% of the CEOs and senior management of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hosts the Oscars, have been white. Cheryl Boone Isaacs, its President, said: “This year we all know there’s an elephant in the room. I have asked the elephant to leave”. The Academy, in fact, has been put under a lot of pressure to respond to the controversy and an emergency board meeting was held in late January: reforms of its voting structure and the establishment of three new governor seats were unanimously approved.

oscar statuette
The much coveted Oscar statuette © Christopher Polk/Getty Images

From #OscarsSoWhite to #BlackLivesMatter

Somehow, though, the elephant is still there – and, incidentally, Stallone has decided to attend the ceremony after all. This goes to show that the problem is much bigger than hashtag activism. The struggle is real, the reason behind the #OscarsSoWhite movement is deep, ancient, yet somehow still very modern. When it comes to the USA, the black movement has been under the spotlight especially thanks to #BlackLivesMatter, a civil rights movement born in 2012 in response to the death of Trayvon Martin, a 17 year old boy murdered by policeman George Zimmerman, who was later acquitted for his crime. From the streets of the country’s most violent neighbourhoods to the glamour of Hollywood, the struggle against institutional racism is alive and well.

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