The Academy Awards are a big deal. The Academy Awards have always been a big deal in a most-prestigious-awards-show kind of way. The Academy Awards have been a big deal for 88 years for their prestige, their class and the fact that they are the world’s oldest entertainment awards ceremony. It now seems, however, that the show is a big deal if only because of its lack of diversity.
I just typed the phrase “lack of diversity,” and I have to say — it feels wrong. It feels easy. “Lack of diversity” is a phrase implying simplicity. It feels sugarcoated. It feels passive. It feels wildly misrepresentative.
It feels white-washed.
My issue with the phrase “lack of diversity” is that ultimately, it feels like an easy, comfortable way to describe a difficult, uncomfortable pattern. Yes, many will argue that Will Smith was snubbed, many will argue that “Straight Outta Compton” was snubbed, many will argue that Idris Elba and Tessa Thompson and the entire creative team of “Tangerine” was snubbed. The issue, however, is that the lack of diversity goes far deeper than just a couple snubs.
The Academy Awards have a historical lack of diversity. The problem is, so does the entire industry. Yes, we need a wider variety of Academy members to help select nominees. Yes, we need to give credit to excellent work created by people of color. But the ultimate solution lies far beyond just the Oscars, because the real problem is not a couple snubs this awards season or last. The problem is in the climate of the entertainment industry’s body of work. Art is representative of the world we live in. If the world we live in is laced with micro-aggressions and blatant systematic racism and inequality, how on earth can we expect our art not to be?
It is all rather dreary — if you are in a bubble of sugarcoated language. For everyone else, it is dire. There is, however, hope. This problem is caused by limited opportunities for people of color in this industry. The solution? Create more opportunities. This is not done by having the wrinkly men up in the Academy hand out more statues to people of color.
Opportunities are created from the bottom — train actors, directors and writers of color. Inspire children to write. Inspire them to create. Tell these children that they are worthwhile, that their work can be worthwhile. Encourage them to keep working, to keep trying, to keep creating. Encourage them to seek training. Accept them into your university and hire them for your project not because of a quota, but because they have valuable voices. Hire directors and designers of color. Hire casting directors that value and implement color-conscious casting. And please, for the love of all things good in the world, whether you are a high school, a university, a movie made on a cellphone, a regional theater, an ABC crime drama, a summer blockbuster or Broadway, select your material carefully.
Select material written by people of color. Select material where people of color are not reduced to stereotypes. Select material depicting the innumerably varied experiences of people of color across time and in all parts of the world. Select shows where people of color are just that — people.
The 88th Academy Awards were a disappointment before they even made it to our televisions. However, one awards show and a few snubs alone are not the summation of this issue. They are indicative, sure. But this is an entirely systematic problem with a solution that begins and ends with one word: create. Create more roles. Create more films. Create more plays, more characters, more stories, more truths. Create, because Viola Davis said it best: “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”