Representing equality

By | Entertainment
Oscar winners of 2014 Matthew McConaughey, Cate Blanchett, Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong'o and Jared Leto at the press room during the 86th annual Academy Awards ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California.Credit@Flickr.

The 2016 Oscars, which may be considered the height of celebration for the artistic endeavour within the filmmaking community, recently revealed its nominees, sparking a revolutionary dialogue globally surrounding the ethnic diversity of its actors and actresses. The nominations listing consequently presented a vast response by both audiences and public figures alike regarding the representation of ethnic minorities, in particular African Americans in the film industry.

Nominee’s announced January 14th for best actor included Leonardo DiCaprio to Michael Fassbender, as well as leading actresses Jennifer Lawrence and Cate Blanchett. The best supporting actor nominees included actors from Tom Hardy to Kate Winslet, this list ceases to feature people of colour.

This debate which saw it’s first response from actress and wife of Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, with the release of a YouTube video that shared awareness via a heartened speech on her emission from the event. Smith, encouraged black actors and actresses to look elsewhere rather than the pro-white institution of the Oscars for approval and critical acclaim and in turn, produced what the public may have interpreted as a ‘boycott’ movement for the Oscars, producing a large sense of unity on social media driven by the hashtag ‘#OscarsSoWhite’.

Jada Smith’s platform as a successful black American actress and social figure may have had the ability to both shed light on the underrepresentation of ethnic minorities within the film industry, as well as open a public dialogue of perspectives for audiences worldwide. In vocalising this movement, a solution may have been provided for a way to raise awareness of the structures of inequality that persist, creating a large consciousness of a required growth of inclusivity within the film industry. This may in turn allow black actors to reclaim a space of recognition and empowerment for their artistic contributions to both culture and society.

Since the first Academy Awards were held in 1929, Halle Berry’s win for her performance in 2002’s “Monster’s Ball” made her the first black woman to win the Best Actress award, and awaits a second to win since. Likewise, Lupita N’gongo’s performance in 2014’s ’12 Years a Slave’ win as best supporting actress, equally gained critical acclaim, yet the significance of their underrepresentation remains to be apparent. The recognition of any social group critically be it a group of ethnic minority, homosexual or within the LGBT community, has the ability to shape and dictate mass audiences identification as individuals who in aspiration may seek empowerment, rather than what may be considered a sense of internalised marginalisation.   

The governing body of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the board which officiates the Oscars, responded to the public in an official statement dated January 22nd  on their website. It stated “The Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences approved a sweeping series of substantive changes designed to make the Academy’s membership, its governing bodies, and its voting members significantly more diverse.  The Board’s goal is to commit to doubling the number of women and diverse members of the Academy by 2020.” This official statement may be considered a revolutionary step in the entertainment industry, one that commits to a greater vision and belief for a larger integration of diversity.

The collective response, both by Jada Smith and artists globally, highlight social media as a platform for social change as well as the way in which this change may influence the hegemonic structures that operate systematically. The result of this powerful dialogue may further emphasise the progression still to be made by institutions whilst also having the ability to encourage public figures to similarly vocalise their experiences by utilising their platform in order to share a vision of a fairer more ethnically diverse future.

How may the 2016 Oscars contribute to a dialogue regarding the diverse inclusivity in the representation of all ethnic groups?

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