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How did the Oscars end up so white?

Sarah Menendez Jan 19, 2016

By now you’ve probably seen the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite making the rounds on social media after Oscar nominees were announced last week. For the second year in a row, not one person of color was nominated for an award in the four acting categories, spurring another round of criticism.

The Academy’s president, Cheryl Boone Isaacs released a statement on Monday addressing the issue, saying she was “both heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion.”

Stars including Jada Pinkett Smith, Michael Moore and Spike Lee say they will boycott this year’s event.

Some Twitter debates, as well as industry analysts, cited broader issues of racial diversity in the industry as the problem: the lack of minority representation in Hollywood’s C-suites, and the relatively small number of films featuring people of color in leading roles.

Ana-Christina Ramón, assistant director and associate researcher at the UCLA Bunche Center for African American Studies, is the co-author of the Hollywood Diversity Report. She said she’s not surprised by this year’s nominations.

For major commercial films, Ramón said, studios often invest in campaigns pushing screeners to Academy members, but even then members aren’t mandated to watch everything they get. And she said movies with diverse casts simply aren’t getting green-lighted, much less benefitting from an Oscar campaign.

She echoed Viola Davis’ Emmys speech from back in September and said that when it comes down to industry representation, “it’s not the lack of talent, it’s the lack of opportunity.”

According to a report by the Washington Post, four of the 25 top-grossing films in 2015 featured a person of color in the lead role. Studies show that 46 percent of ticket buyers are minorities — starkly different than the composition of the Academy.

In 2012, the LA Times reported that the Academy’s membership was 94 percent white and 77 percent male, and the median age for members was 62.

Ramón said that leaves room for bias and subjectivity, whereas “box office profits and reviews more objective picture of how a movie is received.”

However, it is up to those members to decide who and what gets a nomination.

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