Commentary | The Oscars: A White-Washed Tradition

Teen Topics

By: Ella Haber

Lights. Cameras. Action. 2022 was a come-back year for films: new stories were told, different perspectives were highlighted, and imaginative visuals shaped how we view the world. However, award ceremonies, time and time again, typically only celebrate a few views of what a great movie is. 

The Academy Awards, otherwise known as the Oscars, is a ceremony that congratulates artistic and technical skills and advances in the film industry. Every year, the Academy nominates ten films for “Best Picture,” as well as five actors and five actresses for best performances of the year. Other nominations include Best Cinematography, Costume Design, Editing, Original Score, etc. 

Award ceremonies like these are bound to bring disagreements and conflict because there is not only one objective criteria for “the best.” Film, art, music, and interpretations of them are all subjective. Because of this, it is challenging to pick just one movie for the best picture and one person for the best actor/tress. Even allowing for subjective appraisal, the Oscars have displayed blatant biases since 1927, when they were first aired. 

The Oscars have had an exclusionary pattern of nominating films with predominantly white casts, the gold statues held only by white hands. In the early 1900s, this was because white people dominated the film industry. 

Black characters, if any, were played by white faces painted black. As the years progressed and the film industry started to open up and diversify who made and acted in movies, the Academy Awards still predominantly celebrated white films. Many Black-made films are being released but have yet to be awarded proportionally to white movies. 

There has yet to be a Black person awarded Best Director, and overall, there have only been 22 Black actors to win Academy awards. To be Black in America is to work twice as hard to get half as far. This year, Angela Bassett was nominated for her role in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, but she lost to Jamie Lee Curtis, a white woman with about 17 minutes of screen time in Everything Everywhere All At Once. Curtis also surpassed another nominee, Stephanie Stu, an Asian woman with a more significant role in the same movie. This is just one example of the continual racism and racial bias that the Academy exudes. But why is this?

Racial prejudice flows through the roots of America and the Academy. Over 10,000 members make up the voting board that decides which movies and actors should receive awards. In 2014, 76% of the members of the Academy were male, 94% were white, and the average age was 63 years old. If the people that make up the Oscars are mostly old white men, then the films and actors that win will be in that same category—this lack of diversity helps to explain the widespread racial prejudice in the Academy Awards.

 If any Black movies or actors become nominated, it is usually for the same role or concept—Black struggle. They are less likely to be awarded for their talent unless they play enslaved people or housemaids. 

After the hashtag #OscarSoWhite started to gain popularity, the Oscars started to try and diversify the award show. They invited 395 new members to the Academy, 46% women and 39% people of color, which resulted in a more diverse group of members. Predominantly Black movies like Moonlight and Fences have received awards. 

This year, Everything Everywhere All At Once, a film depicting the Chinese-American experience, won the award for best picture. Although The Academy Awards are making little steps to become less white-washed, it is clear that they are less about ‘talent’ and ‘artistic skill’ than about access and power. A world of film beyond the white mainstream is not being viewed and celebrated. 

This needs to change. 

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Headline photo credit goes to Marketwatch. com