By: Victoria Jackson
When The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its 2016 Oscars nominations list, the social media world went into a frenzy — not a single minority was included. Not one.
In the weeks proceeding the announcement, the discussion surrounding diversity (or the lack thereof) within The Academy and the Hollywood film industry sparked fiery debates on both sides of the coin. From the top trending #OscarsSoWhite hashtag to celebrities like Jada Pinkett-Smith and Spike Lee speaking out in protest, minority representation in the media was, and still is, a conversation that simply couldn't be brushed under the rug.
It's no secret that Hollywood has a diversity problem. Many consider the Oscar nominations simply a symptom of the long-standing issue: the lack of roles for minorities in Hollywood's biggest productions. If there are no opportunities to perform, then there are no opportunities to win. It's as simple as that. But, what happens when films featuring people of color are indeed Oscar worthy, such as "Straight Outta Compton," "Creed" and "Beasts of No Nation," and the actors and directors still don't receive any nominations? It's hard to debate the coincidence of these top ranking films being snubbed by Academy voters — a group of 6,000 people who happen to be mostly white.
So, the question is: Do we need our own award shows, or should we work towards diversifying the predominately-white platforms?
In a video she posted on Facebook, Jada Pinkett-Smith said, “Begging for acknowledgment, or even asking, diminishes dignity and diminishes power. And we are a dignified people, and we are powerful. So let's let the Academy do them, with all grace and love. And let's do us, differently."
Historically, people of color have continuously created platforms to elevate and celebrate our own success when mainstream society refused to do so. HBCUs were founded because we were not allowed to attend the schools reserved for white students. Cultural networks were created because we could not relate to the all-white faces on our television screens. Award shows highlighting the successes of urban artists, musicians, and filmmakers such as the BET Awards and the NAACP Image Awards were created because minority talent went unrecognized by mainstream media. Scholarships, beauty pageants, sports leagues, magazines, radio stations, hair care, and a wealth of other programs, products, and platforms were all created to counteract the underrepresentation of people of color in this country.
We have not sat by idly, waiting and hoping for “white approval.” We have created, innovated, and celebrated our own by our own merit. When people suggest we eliminate targeted platforms and programming, such as the BET Awards and Image Awards, I don’t see the promotion of inclusion and integration. I see the erasure of years of success-filled history and legacy.
Therefore, when asked if we need our own award shows, I proclaim a loud yes. We do. History tells its own story, and with the recent all-white Oscar nominations list, it’s clear that not much has changed. America doesn’t have the best track record for highlighting and celebrating the accomplishments of people of color. If we don’t celebrate ourselves, no one will.
On the other hand, I don’t believe that having our own is justification for being shut out from the mainstream. Being a person of color and being a member of American society are not mutually exclusive identities nor are cultural based platforms and mainstream platforms. If the Academy Awards and other top industry ceremonies wish to keep the title and respect of being the best of the best, their nominations must consider all that the industry has to offer, across racial, cultural and subgroup lines.
Since the backlash, The Academy has released statements declaring it will work towards promoting more diversity within its organization. Prominent celebrities have weighed in, and the powerful voice of social media has kept the fire burning. The issue, although won’t be solved overnight, continues to spark a much-needed conversation within minority communities: Should we as people of color have our own platforms? Or should we focus on integration into the mainstream?
What’s your stance?
*Header photo courtesy of Twitter.com