*While many consider the Academy Awards to be nothing more than a celebration of white actors and their accomplishments, others are hoping the event this year won’t be a repeat of last year, which birthed the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite on social media after white actors earned all 20 of the nominations in the lead and supporting categories.
As the LA Times notes, the topic came to define the Academy Awards so much that host Neil Patrick Harris opened the ceremony with: “Tonight we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest. Sorry, brightest.”
The academy responded to the #OscarsSoWhite criticism last June by inviting 322 ‘diverse’ new members, its largest class ever. Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs responded to the backlash at the Governors Awards last November when she announced a new initiative, A2020, designed to promote inclusion within its own staff as well as advocate for an “industry-wide commitment” to partner with the academy to “hire, mentor, encourage and promote talent in all areas of our profession.”
Isaacs, who is the first African-American woman to head the academy, said “the whole discussion about diversity is a great discussion, because now it’s at the top of everybody’s mind, not just the academy’s.”
“It is now a global discussion, and that’s really important,” she later said during a reception at the U.S. ambassador’s London residence for new European members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Despite the efforts of the academy to diversify the organization, there’s still a strong chance this year’s acting awards will once again be exclusively white, with PERHAPS Will Smith (“Concussion”) and Idris Elba (“Beasts of No Nation”) earning nods for their dynamic 2015 performances.
Both actors are expected to be nominated, with some “close observers saying that the prospect of another #OscarsSoWhite controversy could even influence the voting.”
“If it’s all-white again, nobody’s going to be happy and there might be a growing perception that the academy is out of touch,” said USC history professor Steve Ross, author of several books about Hollywood politics. “It has to be a good performance, but, for some, if they’re deciding between Will Smith and somebody else, they might just go for Will Smith because of what happened last year.”
This year’s contenders of color include: Michael B. Jordan (“Creed”), Will Smith (“Concussion”) and Samuel L. Jackson (“The Hateful Eight”). F. Gary Gray’s “Straight Outta Compton” is also being considered, as is transgender actress Mya Taylor for her role as an L.A. prostitute in the indie film “Tangerine.”
F. Gary Gray, who joined the academy this year, said he won’t allow the racial backlash to influence his voting decision.
“I’m not going to allow politics to influence my judgment because then that defeats the purpose,” said Gray. “That’s not how I make movies and it’s not how I’ll vote. If something moves me and touches me, that’s probably the direction I’ll go.”
The 322 new Academy members who were announced back in June included actors Benedict Cumberbatch and David Oyelowo, musicians Common and John Legend and actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Boone Isaacs said it’s the most diverse list than ever before.
The academy will announce its nominations on Thursday, Jan. 14. The 88th Oscars ceremony will be held Feb. 28.