The Oscars are around the corner, the nominations are in, and, like a bad sequel of last year, all twenty nominated actors are white. Now, a lot of critics’ first explanation for the glaring lack of diversity was racism within the Academy—the elusive group of Hollywood old hands that happens to be mainly made up of old white men.
And, yes, to become a member of the Academy you must either be sponsored by two existing members or be nominated for an Oscar, so it may seem like a catch-22 for actors of color—they aren’t being nominated because they don’t belong to the Academy; they can’t belong to the Academy because they aren’t being nominated— but let’s not jump to conclusions just yet. Occam’s razor, right? The simplest solution is usually the right one.
In an age rife with conspiracy theories, it’s easy to get carried away. Let’s look at some other, possibly more reasonable explanations.
No Press is Bad Press
#OscarsSoWhite was such a happy accident of an advertising campaign last year that the Academy decided to do it again—no publicity is bad publicity, right?
Since the hashtag garnered so much attention in 2015, they decided to double-down and go for the sequel. After all, lots of sequels don’t jump the shark until the third or fourth iteration.
The brainstorming session for potential titles might have included: “White Harder,” “The White Force Awakens” (or was that the prequel?), or “Home Alone 6: Whiteout.”
Disoriented Donald Trump Supporters
A group of Trump supporters mixed up the date and time of their political rally with the Academy’s deliberation meetings, and the Trumpets ended up voting for Oscar nominees instead.
Mix-ups happen all the time! And it wouldn’t be especially surprising considering the demographic of Academy voters is strikingly similar to that of Trump supporters. Trump has claimed he is great at building walls (that is, having others build them), so by that metric this is a great policy.
Hard of Hearing
Being largely made up members who are well over the hill, when Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs finished a phone call with the head of the voting committee with a concluding, “Alright!” the members may have mistakenly heard: “All white!”
The lead Academy member took this exclamation as voting instructions and informed his fellow voting members of the injunction.
Actors of Color?
Rather than celebrating actors of color, the Academy thought they would just select nominees for “Best Actor in a Leading Role” whose names kind of sounded like colors.
Eddie Redmayne contains the word “red.” Leonardo DiCaprio starts with “leon” which kind of sounds like “neon,” a bright hue! Matt Damon’s first name could also be spelled “matte,” as in a dull color.
Michael’s is a chain of craft stores that sell a variety of craft supplies in a plethora of colors, so that is what the Academy was probably thinking with Michael Fassbender.
And, though it hardly needs to be said, Bryan Cranston is best known for his teacher-turned-meth dealer character, Walter White.
Honoring the Doubles
Though they are coincidentally all white, the nominees also share another very unifying characteristic. This year’s Oscars will be the 88th Academy Awards.
In the spirit of doubles, for “Best Actress in a Leading Role” the Academy nominated only actresses with pairs of the same letter in their name: Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Lawrence, and Charlotte Rampling.
And while Brie Larson and Saoirse Ronan seem to elude the rule, they were nominated for Room and Brooklyn Wake up, sheeple.
As you can see, there are many plausible explanations besides racism for excluding actors of color from this year’s Oscar nominations. Sure, the Academy does seem like a country club only open to old-timers with the right connections, and they do happen to be overwhelmingly white. And no, they don’t publish the membership list, making the assembly oddly resemblant of a more docile, high-brow version of a fight club.
And yes, this is the second year in a row that there were no Asian, Latino, African American, Native American or any other non-white nominees in the categories for best leading and supporting actors.
But no, when Academy President Isaacs published her January 18th statement where she wrote, “While we celebrate [this year’s nominees’] extraordinary achievements, I am heartbroken and frustrated at the lack of inclusion. This is a difficult but important conversation and it’s time for big changes.” — she wasn’t necessarily talking about the lack of diversity within the Academy and the resulting homogeneous list of nominees this year.
However as ludicrous as it may seem, the whitewashed Oscars may have something to do with racial discrimination, and not only within the Academy but Hollywood at large. Rather than wait for their scheduled January 24th meeting, the Academy called an emergency gathering last Thursday to reevaluate the current membership and the selection process for new members.
The resulting policy changes include making it more difficult for members to gain lifetime voting privileges, creating three additional governor seats to be appointed by President Isaacs, as well as launching a program to recruit new members from around the world. Though change will likely come slowly, the policy alterations are heartening. Thankfully, it looks like #OscarsSoWhite won’t turn into a trilogy.