Why is diversity at the Oscars even a topic of discussion?

Published: January 26, 2016

It’s not a potpourri where you just throw in different colours, flowers and smells and cram into a jar.

It’s nearing the time of the Oscars again where actors gear up to receive their awards based on their acting skills.

Only this time around, on February 28, many of the African American actors will be boycotting the event. The leading boycotter in front of the line is none other than Jada Pinkett Smith who has been pretty much doing all the talking for her usually very outspoken husband, Will Smith. She claims that far too many ‘white’ folks get awards, while the African Americans stay behind. Thus she urges (read: intimidates) black Americans to boycott the Oscars this year.

Let’s not forget that Will Smith was nominated:
– Twice as best actor (Oscars) in the year 2001 and 2006.
– Five times in the Golden Globes.
– Five times in the Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror films, US.
– Five times again in the Blockbuster Entertainment Awards (from which he won three).
– And ironically just twice in the Black movie awards.
– And once in the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) which he won.
– His recent nomination in the Black Reel Awards comes eight years after his last.

So overall, his talent has been recognised more by the very “white” industry that his wife has been feeling heartbroken about.

Will Smith is in fact one of the highest paid, most powerful and most bankable stars in Hollywood with a trail of super-hits behind him. Hence I do wonder if Jada’s boycott has anything to do with Will Smith being overlooked this year as best actor for the movie Concussion.

Having said that, 6,300 people from the film industry vote on who gets to be nominated for the Oscars each year. While many of them are in fact Caucasian and male, the Oscars head is an African American woman called Cheryl Boone Isaacs. So it doesn’t make sense when she (the head) herself says that she is saddened that even though the current nominated actors are very worthy, they should have been more diverse. It’s not a potpourri where you just throw in different colours, flowers and smells and cram into a jar. If she thinks the people nominated are worthy, then she agrees that they are talented and deserving. Thus the 6,300 people decided the names based on talent, not colour.

Even the presenter this year will be Chris Rock.

And this is not the first time an African American will be presenting. Whoopi Goldberg, Diana Ross, Richard Pryor have presented in the past as well as Chris Rock himself.

It is the US, they have a black president, should they really be worrying about diversity at the Oscars? Why were there less black actors nominated? If anything these conscientious folks should instead concentrate on the actual racial issues that exist and poverty. And how their boys are being shot left right and centre.

Another name asking for boycott is the no-stranger-to-awards, Spike Lee who has been nominated twice in the Oscars before and has just won the Honorary Award.

I am guessing these were his words when receiving the award from the hands of Denzel Washington, Samuel L Jackson, and Wesley Snipes,

Thank you so much for appreciating my work and giving me this award to show for it and oh, I hate you all. I will boycott the Oscars this year even though you think I am great. Okay Bye.”

Another very loud person asking for the Oscars to be boycotted is Snoop Dogg. How he fits into this picture, I have no idea.

Some of the names of the black actors who have won Oscars up till now are:
Forest Whitaker
Jamie Foxx
-Denzel Washington
Halle Berry
-Whoopi Goldberg
Jennifer Hudson

Do you know who has never won?

There is only one person who should be able to have as many grievances as he wants and would be fully justified should he decide to boycott the Oscars!

Who, you ask?

Well obviously, the only who should, Leonardo Di Caprio!!

Shamila Ghyas

Shamila Ghyas

The writer is the author of the Aoife and Demon series. She also writes for Khabaristan Times, The Nation, Express Tribune, Dawn and other publications. She can be reached at @ShamilaGhyas (twitter.com/ShamilaGhyas) and www.facebook.com/shamilaghyas

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • salman

    The issue is not that there were no blacks nominated this year, the issue is that they do not get enough roles. Jada has picked the wrong battle. Saying that, they still have it better then Asian/Arab actors.Recommend

  • Noman Ansari

    “There is only one person who should be able to have as many grievances as he wants and would be fully justified should he decide to boycott the Oscars!

    Who, you ask?

    Well obviously, the only who should, Leonardo Di Caprio!!”

    This is just ridiculous! At least Leo was nominated countless times. Deserving artists of color aren’t even getting invited.Recommend

  • farooq

    the author seems confused herself
    Few black people are boycotting Oscars this year. No one boycotted Golden Globe awards at all. Even white actors agree with Will Smith on ignoring black community for years now. If you see track record, Academy Awards are racist based on who they decide should win. It is ironic 2 black men won for playing a ruthless tyrant and a corrupt policeman. But blacks were ignored when they played successful people like Mohammad Ali, Malcolm X, or Rubin Carter.Recommend

  • Shamila Ghyas Ahmad

    If you do your research properly, you will see that most deserving artists are getting nominated. The ones that are skipped are not based on skin color.Recommend

  • Shamila Ghyas Ahmad

    The part about the Spike Lee was infact satire, but you missed that. :)Recommend

  • Shamila Ghyas Ahmad

    No. The problem she claims that exists has been there for decades just like she and her husband have been part of Hollywood for over a decade. This year, she has suddenly woken, my point was to merely ask why.
    There is nothing sexist about stating a person wanting to stick up for their spouse. Where in the world did I say she can’t have an opinion because she has a husband? Why were you even thinking such a thing? Do such thoughts cross your mind daily?

    My point was that people stick up for close ones. There is nothing sexist about that. And if she is so passionate about this issue, where is her #BlackLivesMatter and really….Oscars? What about the boys being shot to death because of their skin?
    She needs to stop being offended for the sake of it and actually deal with the issues where they are supposed to be.

    Talent wins not skin color.Recommend

  • Shamila Ghyas Ahmad

    Since Noman you have written the same points here as well for the 3rd time –

    It’s become a fad to be offended for the sake of it… even when there is nothing.

    If anything that should be offensive is the fact that 6,300 are being with brushed with the same pen as being racists and that they have chosen “white” over black year after year. One or two people, I can get.. but 6,300 people and that too headed by an African American person? There are guidelines and procedures on how to go about nominating people and none mention race. They don’t close their eyes and throw darts on white faces when deciding who to nominate.

    Nowhere have I said ‘women do this’ or anything along those lines. People naturally side with their spouses, best friends, close ones in such given situations. I merely asked, since this is the first time she has mentioned this… even though the problem she claims has been there for decades…. just like she and her husband have been part of Hollywood (and the problem) for over a decade!

    Asians and Latinos are not mentioned in this piece because they are not the ones having issues when of all the people, they actually would have a proper standing if they did at all.

    Eddie Redmayne won for Theory of Everything… He was nothing less than brilliant…. are you saying they should have given the award to a black actor because he is black? Do you know who he was up against? Cumberbatch for Alan Turing! Talent! Nothing to do with color!

    When Denzel won, one of the other nominations on the same list was Will Smith…. They both were nominated for their talent again and the better actor that year won. Had a white actor been better, HE would have won instead.

    You mentioned earlier people having issues with a black storm trooper in Star Wars, that just goes to prove my point that people are offended for the sake of it. He had one of the main roles and this was the build up to upcoming movies where he, AGAIN, will have a major role.

    People have always had issues with the Oscars (and pretty much everything else they see), at first they said there were not enough English speaking people, then they said there were not enough foreign films, then not enough animations… even though through the times there have been foreign films as well as non English speakers and animations! All based on talent! Remember the movie Life is beautiful! It was brilliant and took over the Oscars because it was deserving, not because it was not in English or they needed to give the award to a non English speaking person! And now Ian Mckellen is asking why has no openly gay man ever won the best actor Oscar? See what I mean? He has been nominated and the first time lost out to Roberto Benigni (Life is beautiful who easily deserved it more). i can’t say anything about the 2nd loss as I have not seen the movie myself.

    As for Jada, if you look through her twitter, you will see her being vocal about Oscars, and many other issues using hashtags and what not…. but if racism is so important to her, I am still waiting for her to use the one that everyone has been to bring about this actual issue into light #BlacklivesMatter. She hasn’t as far as I know and before I wrote this piece, I went back months and months to look for it. I did not find it.

    And now people are pressuring Chris Rock to boycott and not present either. Why? Tell black man not present at a show which doesn’t have enough black people to show that there aren’t enough black people. Whut?

    I stick to my opinion that people are offended over nothing and for the sake of it these days. There is nothing against black people in the Oscars.. they give awards to talent… and if they miss out on some.. it is not based on color.Recommend

  • ApostateltsopA

    Your arguments are flawed. No one is saying blacks never win or that they are the only oppressed minority. No one is claiming that there is intent to shut them out. What they are pointing to is a broad and highly problematic pattern of bias against perils of color and women in Hollywood, the Oscars and our culture in general. The problem is institutional racism and until it is viable and acknowledged people will continue to miss the forest for the trees as you seem intent on doing.

    Seriously, they call or the oscars and you mention the golden globes? Take a basic sociology class eh?Recommend

  • Noman Ansari

    Exactly.Recommend

  • Noman Ansari

    It’s easy to miss when there is a line of satire in the middle of 50 lines of opinion!Recommend

  • Noman Ansari

    “If anything that should be offensive is the fact that 6,300 are being with brushed with the same pen as being racists and that they have
    chosen “white” over black year after year”

    It’s called unconscious bias/racism. Look it up. Please. Look it up.

    “One or two people, I can get.. but 6,300 people and that too headed by an African American person?”

    You do realize that one African American person has no sway on how the Academy votes right? Or do you think if one Christian or Ahmadi person was made president of the 6000 biased Pakistanis in a secret vote he’d have sway?

    “Nowhere have I said ‘women do this’ or anything along those lines.
    People naturally side with their spouses, best friends, close ones in
    such given situations. I merely asked, since this is the first time she
    has mentioned this… even though the problem she claims has been there
    for decades…. just like she and her husband have been part of
    Hollywood (and the problem) for over a decade!”

    Without any evidence, purely on your instinct, you marginalized a woman’s opinion on an issue related to her industry saying it was because she was upset about her husband. There is a word for that.

    “Asians and Latinos are not mentioned in this piece because they are not
    the ones having issues when of all the people, they actually would have a
    proper standing if they did at all.”

    Actually, Felix Sanchez, chairman of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, has come out in support. You’d know that if you checked.

    “Eddie Redmayne won for Theory of Everything… He was nothing less than
    brilliant…. are you saying they should have given the award to a black
    actor because he is black? Do you know who he was up against?
    Cumberbatch for Alan Turing! Talent! Nothing to do with color!”

    You realize we are talking about nominations here, right? But keep ignoring the fact that 40 white actors were nominated for two years in a row.

    “You mentioned earlier people having issues with a black storm trooper in
    Star Wars, that just goes to prove my point that people are offended
    for the sake of it. He had one of the main roles and this was the build
    up to upcoming movies where he, AGAIN, will have a major role.”

    What? Are you seriously suggesting that taking exception to the the racist movement against the casting of John Boyega is being offended for the sake of it? What?

    “There is nothing against black people in the Oscars.. they give awards
    to talent… and if they miss out on some.. it is not based on color.”

    The irony is that you see things purely in black and white, and the nuance of this debate completely escapes you.Recommend

  • Noman Ansari

    To you, a list of 6 black oscar winners is evidence that there is zero racism. Tell me, do you agree that there is discrimination against Christians, and Hindus against Pakistan? If you do, I can cite examples minority success stories. I guess that’s evidence enough that there is NO racism. Right?Recommend

  • Miyagi Jr.

    Amen. If The Hurt Locker can win an Oscar against Avatar!
    Unbelievable.Recommend

  • a r modak

    Jada Pinkett-Smith- suffering from “concussion” ?Recommend

  • a r modak

    one more point-remember McCarthyism, of the 6o’s. ?
    when the white house witch-hunted communist sympathisers (and jews) within the industry. several eastern european jews who wanted to enter the industry, were harassed, and had to change their names to enter, like kirk douglas, danny kaye
    so, there is an element of truth about the bias in the US. also remembering that, were it not for the NAACP, which insists that at least one black face be part of teh stellar cast, not many would have made it to the top……………Recommend

  • ajay gupta

    why should asians and latinos be given powerful roles? isnt this the Us film industry? wud americans be allowed to swamp pakistan’s entertainment industry? so in pakistan, pakistanis come first, but in the US, latinos and asians are at par with americans? is it america”s fault that it provides succour to millions fleeing corrupt regimes of asia and latin america?Recommend

  • Noman Ansari

    Asian and Latino Americans dude… not foreigners. Keep up.Recommend