Academy Awards nominations spark debate about diversity

This Feb. 24, 2019, photo shows Oscar winners, Rami Malek, for best performance by an actor in a leading role for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Olivia Colman, for best performance by an actress in a leading role for “The Favourite,” Regina King, for best performance by an actress in a supporting role for “If Beale Street Could Talk,” and Mahershala Ali, for best performance by an actor in a supporting role for “Green Book.” The four will present awards during the Feb. 9 ceremony. Associated Press.

By Camille Rasor | Reporter

Awards season has come around again. Make way for gold trophies, designer outfits, often-politicized acceptance speeches and apparently, lots and lots of white people.

After the Academy Award nominations came out last Monday, many people had objections to the lack of racial diversity in the actors, producers, directors and others nominated in each category. This issue has been brought up year after year, and members of the Baylor community are a part of public discussion.

Last year’s Academy Awards saw wins for people of color in several major categories, including Regina King for best actress in a supporting role, Rami Malek for best actor and several wins for “Black Panther” and “BlacKkKlansman,” including best music (original score) and best adapted screenplay, respectively.

“Last year, we did see more diversity,” said Dr. Mia Moody-Ramirez, the department chair of Journalism, Public Relations and New Media and Baylor professor who has done extensive research on minority and female representation in the media. “But this year, it’s kind of repeating the same patterns that we have seen previously.”

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) awards on Sunday also lacked diversity in nominations and winners, even if a few more people of color were nominated. Overall, four category winners featured people of color, and two of those categories were awards presented to television or movie casts that had predominately white actors. The most notable win for minority actors nominated at the SAG awards this year was outstanding cast in a motion picture for the cast of “Parasite,” a Korean film featuring exclusively Korean actors and/or actors of Korean descent.

“I think this will provide an opportunity for people to appreciate more diverse films, more women films,” Lee Jung-eun, a Parasite cast member, said after the cast won the award. “I feel a sense of responsibility.”

In a different facet of the professional arts industry, the music industry, people are seeing a much more diverse crowd of nominations at the Grammy Awards. In 2018, the Recording Academy put together the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force that analyzed the state of both the academy and the music industry as a whole in order to identify steps the academy could take to bring more diversity to their award ceremony and to the industry.

For example, though there are many female artists nominated for this year’s awards, there are no women nominated for any of the producer categories. However, according to a study published last February by the University of Southern California Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, only 2.1% of producers of the 700 most popular songs from 2012-2018 were women. Due to this disparity of female representation in this facet of the industry, roughly 4.8% of the Recording Academy’s Voting Members are female producers and engineers.

“The fundamental problem of the lack of gender diversity in the Academy’s voting membership cannot be solved until more women go into producing and engineering,” the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force said in their final report published in December 2019. “Supporting this initiative is one of the most important long-term, structural steps the Academy can take to improve the gender imbalance in its voting membership.”

In 2016, the Oscars voting committee made a similar commitment to diversifying their voting members. The Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences set the goal of “doubling the number of women and diverse members of the Academy by 2020,” in a press release published roughly a month before the 2016 Academy Awards. A definition of the term “diverse members” is not present in the statement.

At the time, according to a study by The Los Angeles Times, the voting members were 76% men and 91% white. According to data published on Jan. 14 by The New York Times, this year’s voting members are 68% men and 84% are white, which means they failed to meet both their goal of doubling the amount of women and, if they included racial diversity in their definition of “diverse members,” the amount of people of color in the voting membership.

“You want to have a diverse pool of people in those decision-making roles. They might be able to nominate movies that will not be on other people’s radar,” Moody-Ramirez said. “There are some other movies out there that are noteworthy, but unless you acquire those diverse populations, those movies may not be on your radar. I think that’s what we’re experiencing.”

Lakeland, Tenn. senior Christina Calcote, a Baylor student studying theater performance and an actor for film and television represented by a Hollywood talent agency, echoed a similar sentiment when talking about ways the public can contribute to diversity in the film industry.

“As consumers, we need to be showing up at the box offices. We need to be making ourselves known that these are the stories that we want to see, and these are the stories that interest us, and these are the directors that we get excited about,” Calcote said. “Because the consumers have so much power, especially when it comes in the entertainment industry… Show out for these films that we think deserve recognition because if we sit silent, then we shouldn’t be surprised when the academy sits silent as well.”

This lack of diversity has ramifications in the professional arts industries, but it can also affect the consumers of the content produced by those industries, specifically young people.

“If [young people] don’t see representations of themselves, it makes them feel less important,” Moody-Ramirez said. “It can cause a decrease in self-esteem. If it’s a young man, he might even think that women are not as capable as actresses or that people of color are not as capable because those are not the representations that they see in the movies.”

As an actor currently a part of this industry, Calcote said she feels as though she is perceived as loud and angry when she speaks out about her experience as a woman of color in the industry when that’s not how she feels at all.

“I’m saying, graciously, to those who have been in a place of privilege for so long to invite others to the conversation, and then we will come openly and kindly and with enthusiasm,” Calcote said. “But if we’re continued to be locked out, we’re going to be vocal about it. And you shouldn’t be upset if we are.”