Twitter erupted in hashtag outrage today over the overwhelming whiteness of 2015’s Academy Award nominations. But should that have been a surprise? Yes, last year’s trophy show was a triumph for 12 Years A Slave, the first Best Picture winner directed by a black filmmaker, as well as a landmark win for Best Supporting Actress Lupita Nyong’o. But the Oscars, like the film industry itself, always have been a predominantly white (and male) concern, in stark contrast to the diversity of the moviegoing public.
With Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday looming — today is his actual birthday — the #WhiteOscars and #OscarsSoWhite hashtags ranged from irate to hilariously on point over the fact that only one minority filmmaker (Birdman‘s Alejandro González Iñárritu) and zero women were nominated this year in the writing and directing categories.
The backlash was only so loud because hopes were so high for Selma going into nominations morning. Paramount mounted an emotionally poignant campaign for Selma, albeit with a glaring screener problem, but failed to secure the Best Director nomination for Ava DuVernay and Best Actor nod for David Oyelowo that would have marked 2015 as a year of continuous progress in diversity for the Academy.
Like any classy snubbee (see: The Lego Movie’s Phil Lord), DuVernay kept it positive on social media. Maybe she learned to avoid the trolls after stoking the flames of awards controversy while tangling with LBJ defenders on Twitter. Exec producer and avid Selma campaigner Oprah remained silent, but plenty of Selma supporters weighed in, like the Rev. Jesse Jackson who tweeted his disappointment directly to the Academy:
As Deadline’s Pete Hammond points out, Selma’s snubs aren’t a black or white issue. The fact is, DuVernay’s acclaimed MLK drama was overlooked by every major guild award and the BAFTAs, yet earned a slot among eight Best Picture nominees — a very rare feat. The Academy’s entire voting body, which skewed 94% Caucasian and 77% male when the Los Angeles Times got a rare glimpse into the organization’s well-protected demographic in 2012, had a say in whether Selma made it into the Best Picture race.
On the other hand, it’s the individual branch members who vote on each category’s nominations. Selma supporters cry racism over Oyelowo’s snub in a year with a crowded Best Actor race. The directors branch also failed to nominate Unbroken‘s Angelina Jolie, another woman whose studio pushed hard this year for a status quo-breaking nomination.
Since that LA Times skin-tone exposé, the Academy, led by African-American marketing exec Cheryl Boone Isaacs, has added more than 400 members and enacted new initiatives to add more color to its ranks. But that kind of progress, in the Academy as in studio offices and across corporate America, is slow-moving. And as always, the Oscars are a reflection of what the industry serves up in any given year.
For all the #WhiteOscars tweets today, DuVernay took the high road: